Monday, December 20, 2010

More on Social Darwinism's Shortfalls

In September, I posted an article linking to two articles explaining why Social Darwinism is not a philosophy leading to any kind of sustainable prosperity for a company or society.  One reason given is that it treats people as commodities.  I think this bit deserves special focus because it’s so subtle, yet so central to Social Darwininsm’s indefensibility on both moral and practical grounds.

For example, it’s very possible for a worker to be tremendously competent at meeting and exceeding company standards, yet also be tremendously negative in their actions and attitudes toward their co-workers. Social Darwinism fails to see that an individual’s “on paper” productivity and his or her actual, holistic productivity are two different things; and that the latter is ultimately at least as important as the former, arguably even more so in the long run. I’ll demonstrate below how unwarranted negative actions often decreases others’ productivity.   

Smith and Jones work for the same employer.  Potentially, Smith can produce $180K of “stuff” while Jones can produce $150K of identical “stuff”.  Together, they can produce $330K worth. However, suppose Smith’s actions and attitudes cause him to actually produce $200K worth of "stuff" (contrary to his expected potential production) while his attitudes and actions toward Jones cause Jones to produce only $90K worth.   In this case, Smith gains $20K for the company from his actions and attitudes while Jones loses $60K due to Smith's attitudes and actions toward him.

While Smith’s own productivity exceeded the even the most optimistic predictions, the company still lost potential productivity on Smith overall; for Smith’s actions caused the combined actual productivity of both ($290K) to fall well short of the potential expected potential ($330K). That means Smith’s actions cost the company $40K, even as Smith himself produced $20K more than potentially expected.  In a fair world, this means Smith would either be fired or get a  $35K pay cut. Unfortunately, in this world, Jones will have to answer for his own shortfall somehow.  This is because worker shortfalls caused by a coworker’s actions and attitudes toward that worker are not detectable on accounting statements, let alone quantifiable.  This doesn’t make the $40K net loss caused by Smith any less real, only hidden.

Social Darwinism, being an essentially pro-status-quo establishment philosophy, would simply assume that Smith’s a winner and Jones is a chump – end of story (OK, that’s an oversimple caricature of how management would handle the situation, but it’s still the real-world expected outcome).  However, as shown above, there could very well be more to a situation than meets the eye (or production sheets and accounting statements). Using this assumption in this scenario, the company unwittingly reduces its overall productivity, even if its most productive workers do produce far “above and beyond the call of duty”.  The company is therefore failing to see that people can be tremendously lacking in “thick skin”, social smoothness, etc. who nevertheless can be productive for their employers in absence of other workers whose actions and attitudes can negatively affect the worker's productivity.

Result: In such an environment, people’s individual success depends as much on on their ability to have a thick skin toward people who are frankly bullies as on their actual productivity of real goods and services (and possibly not even that).  Ditto for other scenarios involving bootlicking and co-worker politics vs. actual production of saleable goods and services.* Unfortunately, “thick skin” and bootlicking are not saleable to the public; only the company’s goods and services are.  So while it’s true that good companies place primary value on worker productivity, to add anything beyond the basics of social skills of courtesy, openness, civility, fair-mindedness (i.e., bootlicking, thick skin, social schmoozing) is to add an unnecessary demand on the workers.  By doing so, the company is excluding people who may not have thick skin or are super-smooth socially, but who nevertheless can be significantly more productive in the absence of workplace politics and especially workplace abuse.  This results in the company having a harder time finding successful employees, however slight; and therefore an inefficiency the company needs to purge from its system.

Therefore, by implicitly adding “thick skin” and bootlicking to the demanded traits of a worker is to add what is, at best, a human resources inefficiently for the company.  At worst, the company might be so demanding of “thick skin” and/or social smoothness that they lose sight of the essential basic characteristic of a good worker – producing profitable goods and services the company wants.  Clearly, this company’s assumption of “Smith-winner/Jones-loser on productivity grounds alone” can only lower a company’s overall productivity of other members of society. 

In the end, Social Darwinist beliefs is essentially a back-rationalization for justifying incivility toward others. The only ones who benefit are those who need the benefit the least – namely those already at the very top (whether financially or socially), ones who can easily live the rest of their lives without work if necessary; or even if necessary can easily find other employment or start their own business. 

Ultimately, hyper-competitive, dog-eat-dog attitudes assume that only society’s already-established-and-proven “winners” can produce things that the greater society would otherwise benefit from in the long run.  In the end, the company gets what it truly values most – if they ultimately value a person’s individual productivity over how that person’s behavior affects others productivity, then they end up with highly productive yet highly unpleasant workers.  This only hurts worker morale and ultimately its actual productivity, regardless of the workers’ potential talents. Clearly this is a maladaptive philosophy, which, if left unchecked, is a long term threat not only to a company’s bottom line but to the overall prosperity of a community or even a nation.

*Obviously high-end sales is an exception to this, especially when actively prospecting for new clients. Here, social smoothness, assertiveness, and thick skin are indeed essential traits. Also, I’m ignoring traits where assertiveness and thick skin also are obviously a necessary trait in order to serve the public interest (namely security, police, and combat occupations, but professional or semi-pro athletics as well). However, this is not true for the majority of occupations.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Narcissism, Psycho/Sociopathy, Bigotry, and Bullying

Work in Progress

Note: I have no training whatsoever in psychology, much less psychiatry.  My knowledge comes merely from a layman's reading of Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorders, usually in the context of Corporate Psychopathy.  Therefore, this post is ultimately my personal speculation and nothing more. Only a trained mental health expert duly licensed by his or her local, regional, or national governmental entity is qualified to give an authoritative opinion in this matter, particularly regarding the mental state of any particular individual.

It’s well-established there are similarities between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder (formerly called psychopathy or sociopathy), as evidenced by the fact that many having one condition will have traits of the other. In fact, both personality disorders are classified by the American Psychological Association as “Cluster B” personality disorders (dramatic/erratic ones). However,  it’s important to note that not all narcissists are antisocials and vice versa.
After reading the DSM-IV* diagnostic criteria for both disorders, I noticed the mindsets accompanying the disorders are far too similar to bigotry for me to confidently handwave away. I will deal with the bullying aspect later. For now, let’s look at the similarities between narcissists and bigots.

 Like narcissists, bigots try to raise themselves above certain “others” or degrade those same others.  Also like narcissists, bigots seem to merely endure the presence of “lesssers” in their presence, if they tolerate them being in their presence at all.  Again, also like narcissists, bigots have a superior sense of entitlement relative to the target of their contempt.  Yet again like narcissists, bigots get quite irritated (often outright agitated) when others call on them to consider the feelings and interests of those others they look down upon.  Ultimately, narcissists and bigots are egocentric, whether for themselves or the group they are members of (or wish they were part of) – usually even in reference to other groups they don’t particularly look down upon (even in this case, their respect for that group is conditional upon that group – as a whole – conforming to their ultimately shallow ideals of respectworthiness to a satisfactory degree).  Without implying that either one is necessarily the other, all these similarities compel me to believe that these mentalities have the same ultimate source – elevation of the self or one’s own group above others.

With this in mind, I adapted the DSM-IV criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder to check how closely the attitudes of a bigot mirror those of a narcissist.  As you can guess, all I did was cross out the word “others” from the official DSM criteria, then substitute in its place races, religions, sexual orientation, believers in a different religion, political ideology, philosophical outlook, etc.

(1)  has a grandiose sense of the importance of their own race, orientation, belief system (whether religious, political, philosophical, etc.), socio-economic group, etc. (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

(2)  is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, etc. of their own race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. OR preoccupied with with the ultimate beauty or admiration or widespread sense of righeteousness of the same.

(3)  believes that their race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with people of similar backgrounds or belief systems (or institutions).

(4)  requires from others an excessive admiration from others about their own race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc.

(5)  has a sense of entitlement for their own race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her group’s expectations.

(6)  is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others who do not belong to their race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. (especially those less acceptable to their social group) to achieve his or her own ends.

(7)  lacks empathy towards others who are not part of their race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. (i.e., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of those outside their own or preferred group(s)).

(8)  is often envious of those of a different race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

(9)  shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes toward those of a different race, sexual orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc.

So far, we’ve emphasized the list with regard to the bigot raising themselves up.  In the real world, most people barely give those groups (or any “out” group, or even targets of bullying) a second thought. That is, they usually ignore or shove them aside, except when they feel like harassing them or exploiting them.  Also, keep in mind that just because one thinks unreasonably highly of him or herself does not mean they view those they are “better than” with active contempt. With this in mind, let’s look at this list from the standpoint of looking down on others in a spirit of active contempt.

(1)  has a stuborn sense of the worthlessness of another race, orientation, belief system (whether religious, political, philosophical, etc.), socio-economic group, etc. (e.g., downplays or degrades their achievements and talents, expects others to see “them” as inferior regardless of how great their accomplishments are).

(2)  is preoccupied with fantasies of the ultimate failure, weakness, timidity, stupidity, etc. of another/or certain race(s), orientation(s), belief system(s), socio-economic class(es), etc. OR preoccupied with the ultimate disgust, contempt or evil of those groups.

(3)  believes that their race, orientation, belief system, socio-economic class, etc. is "unclean”, “sleazy”, etc. (often uniquely so) and therefore no “normal, sensible, self-respecting person with strong backbone” should associate with such people, or even try to understand their point of view.

(4)  requires from others (especially members of their own group or the most socially acceptable groups) a firm contempt of the race(s), sexual orientation(s), belief system(s), socio-economic class(es), etc. they hold in low esteem.

(5)  thinks such race(s), orientation(s), belief system(s), socio-economic class(es), etc. don’t deserve even the basics of common courtesy, decency, fairness, and respect (often speaking about them in terms suggesting they barely [if at all] deserve even the very basics of human rights, civil liberties, etc. – perhaps to the point of secretly wishing genocide against those people).

(6)  if they aren’t ignoring or snubbing such people, they either denigrate, exploit, con, manipulate, or even persecute such people to achieve his or her own ends.

(7)  thinks any “normal, sensible, self-respecting person with strong backbone would (or ought to) lack empathy toward members of those race(s), orientation(s), belief system(s), or socio-economic class(es), etc. (i.e., be unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of those outside their own or preferred group(s)).

(8)  sees these “others” as a threat to social position/status, if not to their culture, society, or even civilization.

(9)  shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes toward those target(s) of their contempt.

As I said above, this doesn't prove narcissism and bigotry are exactly the same, or even similar. Most bigots are not narcissists. Narcissists comprise only one percent of the general adult population. Even so, I cannot help but notice the similarities between narcissism and bigotry.  Personally, I think (at the time of this writing) the most likely explanation is that most bigots are brainwashed by narcissistic cultural attitudes, but that's merely my own opinion.  This certainly is an interesting avenue to explore by professional researchers.  Nevertheless, given how little we still know about human psychology, I think it wise to ask yourself how much behavioral difference there really is between bigotry and narcissism, particularly whether one can cause the other (but not necessarily do so).

*DSM-IV  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition, of the American Psychiatric Association

As for psychopathy/socipathy -- In short, I don't believe bigots and bullies are psychopaths, not most of them anyway.  Psychopaths and sociopaths generally do not have emotion, although sociopaths do have a sense of loyalty (the defining difference between a psychopath or sociopath).  Only one percent of all adults are psychopaths or sociopaths, while well over one percent of a population could be considered bigoted, even if they aren't even a substantial minority of the people. If we use 1960s White American Southerners and 1980s White South Africans as examples, it's safe to say that well over one percent of those populations harbored bigoted or otherwise racist tendencies toward African Americans and Native Africans respectively. So despite the fact that behaviors like bullying and bigotry do resemble the behaviors of psychopaths and sociopaths toward other people in general, I think the similarities are more superficial than real. Were they - as a group - truly pathological, then we should see them behaving similarly toward each other at much greater rates than is acutally the case. For this reason, I've all but completely discarded the notion that bullies and bigots are even close to having psychopathy/sociopathy to even a moderate degree (barring the absolute extreme-most cases).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Origins of Morality: My Speculations

The Origin of Morality is one of the great debates of philosophy, and has been for millennia. For what it’s worth, I’ll voice my own views on the origin of morality by considering how morality could exist in the first place. In particular, I’ll bring up some hypothetical planets: one completely lifeless, one with only one human, and one with only two humans. This sounds to me like a reasonable basis for determining not only the point at which morality could exist, even in theory, but also which actions could qualify as moral, neutral, and immoral. I will not deal with the theological aspect of the issue because I think (for now, at least) that my comments below apply just as well to a theological world view (of any religion) as they do a decidedly atheistic world-view

Completely lifeless planet: No morality is possible there, for mere non-living matter is not capable of being hurt or injured (except in a very metaphorical sense). It certainly doesn’t matter if some deformation or destruction happens on the planet because there’s no living thing there to care what happens.

Add a single human to this planet. Unless this person is a bonafide psychopath, he or she will have a sense of right and wrong. Morality still can’t exist here either; for there’s nobody else that can be affected by his or her actions, whether physically or emotionally. That means any action he or she takes will absolutely lack morality.

Now, add a second human to this planet. In this case, morality can exist because there is a person who can be influenced by his or her actions – for good or ill. In this case, these things can happen: the first person gains while second person loses or vice versa (an exploitative/oppressive relationship) or the two persons can choose to cooperate (mutually beneficial, whether a symbiotic relationship or not). Regarding the former, if a person can feel pain of any sort, or any lessening of their ability to contribute their best talents to the well-being of both themselves and their group, then that is universally regarded as immoral.

However, one can argue that killing that person wouldn’t necessarily be immoral. With that person’s death, the population drops back down to one. In this case, the murderer is potentially in the situation described in the previous scenario, for reasons described shortly. Arguing against this point is the notion that morality starts from “Self Sovereignty” – the right of a person to determine his or her own destiny as long as it doesn’t cause unreasonable harm others. “Reasonable”, of course, depends on many factors, including the issue of whether it’s moral to kill one person if the only alternatives are that both die, not to mention a whole host of other issues.

Nevertheless, killing one party only potentially leads to all cessation of morality; for the killer could still have a guilty conscience about killing the person, even if the sentiment behind the killing would qualify as murder in any human society. The reason is that the killer may still have a sense of guilt for taking that person’s life without that party’s consent. Furthermore, even if that person did consent to have their life taken, the killer can still feel very badly afterward. The guilt comes from having put the person in pain (if indeed pain accompanied the death). Even if no pain accompanied it, the killer may feel bad knowing that he or she snuffed out of existence a fellow conscious and/or sentient being. After all, killing someone necessarily involves denying them future enjoyable experiences and in general the feeling of being alive. This is particularly true if the killed person were not suicidal.

Therefore, at this point, I believe morality can exist only in cases where (a) there are at least two previously existing people and (b) that the surviving party has empathy and compassion. Regarding point (b), these are not the same thing. Empathy is simply ability to read and feel how others would feel, compassion is the urge to reach out and help others in need and/or pain OR the sense of pain one would feel if they caused harm or pain to others). Other elements undoubtedly are necessary for morality to exist, but I will leave these speculations for a future post.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Habitability of Gliese 581g

As you can see from my previous posts, I think life is fairly common in this cosmos, though life of our intelligence and technology level is very rare. The discovery of Gliese 581e definitely can make one question whether we’re underestimating the number of star systems containing life-bearing planets, or even planets with civilized life.  I understand the excitement about such a discovery, but that does not mean we should let our excitement cloud our judgment.  In that spirit, I want pass on some information about the star system itself.

I’ll go into greater detail below, but the short-and-skinny is this:  Gliese 581g definitely is the most promising candidate for extraterrestrial life of the Earth-type we’ve encountered. It (a) has a star is of sufficient age,(b) is massive enough to sustain the volcanos and plate tectonics on which earth-life ultimately depends (possibly even better than Earth), and (c) located at the right distance from the star to make liquid water quite possible if other factors are present.  

Nevertheless, the planet has as many factors inhibiting life as we know it as it does potentially fostering it – all of them center around one thing: rotation lock, when one side of a body permanently faces a body it orbits due to the larger body’s gravity.  The same thing happened to the moon with regard to Earth, forcing the moon to have one side permanently facing away from earth.  Likewise, the ‘g’ planet likely is close enough to Gliese 581 so that star locks one side of the planet permanently toward it.  The rotation lock does two things to the planet: potentially limit life to the terminator (the dusk-or-dawn boundary) and, probably more importantly, rob the planet of a sufficient magnetic field that protects life from excessive washes of cosmic rays, solar radiation flares, and similar phenomena that can prevent life from forming.

What do we know about the Gliese 581 system so far?

First, the star is a “red dwarf main sequence star”, compared to our sun being a “yellow dwarf main sequence star”.  Main sequence stars are stars that power themselves by fusing hydrogen into helium in their cores.  Stars that do not do so are on what is called the “asymtoptic giant branch”, meaning they start fusing helium into carbon and oxygen, or those atoms into heavier ones like neon, sulfur, calcium, and so forth. In the process, they swell to many times their original size (as in ‘volume’), though their mass may be less than earlier in their lives. Such stars are old and near the end of their lives, and therefore are poor candidates for life.  For this reason, the search for extrasolar planets focuses on the younger main sequence stars.  Gliese 581 is definitely such a star.

Secondly, the star’s mass is about 1/3 that of our sun.  You’d think that smaller mass means a shorter lifespan, but the opposite is actually true.  Red dwarfs may have smaller mass than our sun, but their gravity and core temperatures are much less.  So this star goes through its fuel much more slowly than larger stars, even if it starts off with less actual fuel.  Think of a Hummer with 100 liters of gasoline/petrol versus an economy car with 30 liters; which one will have to stop to refuel sooner, assuming both are traveling the same speed? 

Therefore, Gliese 581 is destined to last much longer than our own sun. Indeed, it’s estimated at 7 to 11 billion years old and shows no signs of old age at all.  Our sun will be in that age range starting in 2 billion years, by which time it will go into the transitional “sub-giant” phase, where the star is still basically main sequence but is in the first stages of switching its primary fuel from hydrogen to the helium “ash”, along with the consequent swelling (which will spell the doom of earth-life as we know it).  In fact, decades of observing stars shows that the mass-lifetime relationship is so strong we can make a good mathematical estimate of how long a star will “live”.  1/Ms^2.5 =Ls, where

Ms = Solar masses (the sun’s mass =1, half the sun’s mass =0.5, 50% greater than the sun’s mass is 1.5, etc)

Ls = Lifetime of the sun in solar lifetimes (where Ls=1 is the total expected lifetime of the sun [ about 10 billion years], Ls=3 is 3 times the sun’s lifetime, etc.)

We know Gliese 581’s mass is 0.32 solar masses, so all we have to do is raise 0.32 to the 2.5th power, then get its reciprocal. This reciprocal will tell us how much life the star has compared to our own.

0.325^2.5 = 0.0579 ->  1/0.579 = 17.2633, meaning Gliese 581’s total life is about likely to be 17.2633 times as long as our sun’s.  With a total solar lifetime of 10 billion years, then that means Gliese 581 will live for over 170 billion years!  With our universe only 13.7 billion years old, Gl 581’s still a toddler under any reasonable scenario and therefore unlikely to have changed substantially in the past several billion years.  Lack of change over the last several billion years is the critical factor here, for earth-like ecologies need a reasonably stable temperature regime in order to thrive. Gl 581 apparently passes this with flying colors.
Even better, the star does not seem prone to energetic surface flaring like many stars its size (flares release intense X-rays that can damage life). Nor does it seem “variable” (vary in brightness abruptly, thus creating dangerous changes in temperature life cannot adapt to).  Therefore, we see nothing about the star actual behavior that can inhibit life’s formation on a planet in the “goldilocks zone”. 

The Planet

Unfortunately, its very longevity and coolness renders its habitable zone inside its “rotation lock zone” (discussed above).  This can truly reek havoc on an otherwise quite suitable planet by stopping its rotation.  On Earth, our magnetic fields block out the worst of the various cosmic radiations that would otherwise quickly kill us. This magnetic field exists because our planet is rotating rapidly enough to create electromagnetic fields in the core that extend well beyond our planet’s surface.  Therefore, if any life exists on Gliese 581g, it will have to be deep underground, deep in the oceans, or have an exceptionally competent means of self-repairing radiation damage (very likely the only way life can survive on its surface). 

 On the other hand, atmospheres can also block out some of the cosmic radiation hitting a planet, so ‘g’ just might have a thick enough atmosphere to block out the cosmic radiation that would otherwise hit it. This is quite possible, given that ‘g’ is only 3 times the mass of earth (and hence very likely a rocky-metallic world). Planets that massive definitely have enough internal heat to sustain volcanism.  Add an ocean to this world and it almost certainly will sustain plate tectonics (and hence a “carbon cycle”, which draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into rocks, with the said rocks being drawn back into the mantle at oceanic trenches, thereby preventing excessive C02 buildup that creates a Venus-like planet).

Whether there actually are any oceans at all on ‘g’ is anyone’s guess. Regardless, 'g' almost certainly has volcanoes, for the larger a world, the more internal heat it will have at any given moment in time. This translates into more internal heat the planet will inevitably release, namely in the form of volcanoes (and possibly plate tectonics if there is sufficient ocean cover on its surface). The volcanoes would release water into the atmosphere, the source of oceans.  Still, for all we know, ‘g’s crust might be so thick as to inhibit all but the most explosive vulcanisms, which works against plate tectonics because the thicker the crust, the more difficult it is to form trenches that subduct the plates into the planet.  This would favor a continued buildup of CO2 to potentially Venus-like levels; not exactly a biologically friendly environment to say the least.

There’s also the possibility that ‘g’ is a water world, covered completely or almost so by oceans.  This would almost certainly give ‘g’ plate tectonics, but all the continents would remain under water, even if they did turn out to be full of life.  This would be fascinating for biologists but disappointing for those hoping for land-based species of our type, and likely even civilization itself.  Civilization requires an ability to work materials into different forms.  That means changing the temperature of the materials, which certainly means fire.  Because fire cannot exist under water, that severely limits a species ability to move beyond the hunter-gatherer stage of development.


Gliese 581g will go down as one of astronomy’s great discoveries. Even if the planet proves unfavorable for life after all, it still suggests that there are likely other planets meeting the necessary preconditions for life, and more importantly that actual life-bearing worlds may not be as rare as once thought.   There’s still a long way to go before we discover evidence of alien civilizations (currently existing or vanished), but there is a real chance there are plenty of planetary Seringetis or Jurassic Parks awaiting us next door.  If a planet does show all relevant chemical signatures indicating life, a probe will no doubt eventually be launched toward that planet.  The discoveries and samplings of that alien biosphere will provide new insights of the potential variability life can take in this cosmos, and in doing so help us appreciate our own place in the universe.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Phenomenon Called Time: My Initial Reactions

Time is so all-permeating in this universe that we take it for granted.  The very laws of physics seem to have at least an element of time to it¸ going all the way back to the Big Bang.  Everything is moving relative to some object in the universe, from the tiniest subatomic particles and photons to whole superclusters of galaxies. That movement requires time. After all,  if no time existed, how can things move (look at how we measure movement in terms of speed: speed equals distance divided by time).

Does time have a beginning or end?  Does it only exist as a product of the human thought process, as some physicists hold?  Or does the “presence” of nothingness simply render time irrelevant but no less existent.  The answer depends on what the definition of time is. The best definition of time I can come up with is as follows: A non-spatial phenomenon that allows for the potential for change, change in position or condition.  Let's break this one down to make it more comprehensible.

A non-spatial (i.e. not bound to or measurable in terms of the three spatial dimensions: up-down, right-left, or forward-backward)

phenomenon: basically a phenomenon is a thing, place, event, or any other kind of occurance.

So another way of defining time is a "thing" that has no height, width, length (in the measuring stick sense) that allows something to change another thing's place or condition/nature. Debatable this definition may be, but that’s the definition I base this post on.

Change in position:  You can move an ice cube across any of the three spatial dimensions: up-down, right-left, or forward-backward.  However, what can not happen is the ice cube being in two different places at the same time a macroscopic object cannot occupy two different places at the same time.  For it to occupy a different position, it needed something that enabled a change in that position. Although at the subatomic level, quantum physics does allow a subatomic particle two different spatial positions simutaneously, subatomic particles themselves do change positions, which still requires something to enable the change in the particle's position - which again requires the phenomenon called time.

Change in condition: For example, the ice cube can stay solid, turn to water, or turn to gas. Also, iron bars rust, living things die, and so forth. Before the iron bar and the living things existed, they were – ultimately – hydrogen nuclei in the cores of stars that eventually fused together.  This was the first event in a long chain of events that lead to the creation of life and that iron bar. This is a change in the condition of the proton and neutron(s), if any, in that hydrogen nucleus – changing from “free floating” single nucleus to being part an iron atom’s nucleus; or in the case of a living thing, being part of the atom of a molecule of a living thing. 

Another example of a change in condition is illuminating an object with a frequency of light it absorbs. If you use the “right” frequency of light, you can change the color of the object (in a manner of speaking). For if a green object happens to absorb all red light, then shining a red light onto that object makes that object appear black.  In both cases, the atoms of those objects experienced changes in condition: the single hydrogen nuclei later incorporated into living matter and the iron bar, the green object reflecting green light, and later reflecting no visible light because the object absorbs red light.  For the nuclei and that green object to change from red to green requires a change in the light spectrum hitting that object. That can happen only if time existed (i.e. enabled the change in condition/characteristic of the light reflected off the object).

I think something similar applies to the nature of time, particularly concerning the beginning of the universe. This directly concerns the question “Has time always existed or did it only begin with the birth of the universe).  Some very respect-worthy physicists say that time itself did not exist before the Big Bang, but I disagree. After all, even if the pre-Big Bang singularity (more accurately, “the pre-Inflation” one) changed into the proverbial “hot primordial soup” of the universe, then that was a change in condition.  Therefore, there had to be something to enable that change in condition, even if there happen to be some intermediary steps within the singularity itself that had to occur that we presently are ignorant of.  The bottom line is that there was a singularity that went from having the original characteristic of the proto-universe (if it be called that) to the post-Bang universe with the “old” characteristics, and finally to the intermediate steps that lead to the universe as we know it today. No matter how or what caused the change in the singularity’s condition, it had to have some phenomenon that allowed for the potential for that change before the actual change in the singularity’s condition –into the universe as we know it.  The changes in the position of all the matter and energy in the universe are self-evident, so I won’t go into it.

For these reasons, I think time is eternal, if defined as the nonspatial phenomenon that allows for changes in the position or condition of anything.  You may disagree with this definition, but that’s your prerogative. I’m happy to hear a better (i.e., more complete, more comprehensive, and more coherent) definition of time, but for now this is the definition I am sticking with.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Major Fail: Social Darwinism Can't Deliver the Goods It Promises

This post is about two articles that get my personal "Five Star Rating", both put to lie the myth of Social Darwinism - the notion that societies, economies, etc. become stronger if they ruthlessly weed out the weak. The articles I refer to are What Darwin Didn't Mean (from the UTNE Reader, basically a kind of Readers' Digest of the US Alternative Press) and Survival of the Nicest (from I tried to give a real summary of these articles, but found I couldn't do so without leaving out sailent points.  So I'll just do a grade school summary of the articles. First, from What Darwin Didn't Mean.

Contrary to popular opinion, rough and merciless competition does not bring out the best in people. In fact, it only makes society worse in the long run, regardless of whatever short or even medium term benefits come its way. In fact, rough and merciless competition usually hurts a society in the long run - namely by making it poorer, less intelligent, and overall weaker. This is because the "weak vs strong", "predator vs prey" paradigms commits the following serious errors against not only society as a whole, but against the "strong and smart" themselves:

1)Encourages unethical behavior

2)Ignores the fact that companies can rake in enormous profits without contributing real goods and service ("fees", excessive "cost cutting", indifference to non-numerically measurable aspect of society's, employees', and a company's well-being).

3) Incentivizes short-term profits at the cost of ignoring the non-monetary long term profitability of a company.

4) Creates disincentives to creative thinking and self-criticism, for it's easier (not to mention more pleasant feeling) to roll out the latest money-maker as quickly as possible than to question whether that money-maker has real sustainable benefit for the company (and hence a solid source of long-term profitability).

Survival of the Nicest is easier to summarize, and in fact is inspired by the above article.  The basic idea is that Social Darwinism is based on a 19th century understanding of how evolution works, and a distorted interpretation of that understanding besides.  Modern research shows that empathy and compassion are also well-founded in the animal world. For example, gorillas and chimpanzees caring for sick and injured members of their troup.  In fact, the modern understandings see cooperation and compassion as being at least as important for survival of a species as competition is.  Therefore, Social Darwinism's kill-or-be-eaten assumptions is based on an oversimple explanation of how evolution works, and therefore does not deserve to be taken seriously as a model on which to base human societies, including our economic systems. This should relegate Social Darwinism to the same ashbin of history in which Communism now inhabits, for both approaches utterly fail to account for the great complexities of human nature.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Benefits of Forgiving Stupidity

or, Why I Stopped Buying the Line that Stupid People and Ideas Deserve Scorn

Stupidity, though an undesirable trait, is not worthy of scorn for two classes of reasons, moral and practical

The moral reasons:

1)The basic simple Golden Rule: What you don’t want done to yourself, do not do to others.

2) The stupidity they did commit could not by any reasonable standard be regarded as a non-trivial threat to others’ lives, physical or mental health, physical or mental functionality, their human rights, civil liberties, their money, bank accounts, property or reasonable enjoyment thereof.

The practical reasons are as follows:

1) Scorn only tells people they did something to meet others disapproval. It says nothing about how to correct their error, assuming they committed an error in the first place.

2) Scorn causes resentment, anger, distress, or mental discomfort in the people scorned for their stupidity; often to the degree that they either close their minds to what you have to say. Even if the stupid person is open to what you have to say, the non-trivial emotional disquiet creates an additional barrier which they have to overcome in order to get to the point where they can listen to or figure out exactly why they are in error.

3) There is always the possibility that “stupid” person is not being stupid after all.  History is filled with occassions where people came up with a new idea that conventional society said was stupid, but proved to be correct when one looked deeper into the matter than mere popular “say-so”.

In fact, some scholars, most notably Richard Florida, say (essentially) that a community’s economic future often hinges on how they react to stupid, strange or weird ideas and cultural practices. Example: Florida claims it’s no accident the San Francisco Bay area is a major center for creating tomorrow’s technologies based on cutting edge science - namely that the SF Bay area is open not only to unconventional ideas, but also unconventional people.  Areas open to “unique” people and ideas are also more likely to be open to “unique” ideas about business, industry, and technology.  Result: the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Bay metropolitan area has the highest per capita income of any large US metro area (yes, even higher than the New York metro area).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Social Proof" is Overrated

Social Proof is the assumption that the what everybody says about a matter or a person is correct.  While there are some situations where this is the case, this way of determining the truth about someone and something is vulnerable to unquestioned societal opinions (often confusing those opinions for facts established beyond reasonable doubt), personal prejudices, crowd psychology, and the general tendency for people as a whole not to think sufficiently deeply about the matter or person.  Even though "social proof" is usually sufficiently strong to justify taking it seriously, it is foolish to base one's opinions on social proof alone.

Social Proof: Pros and Cons


*The group often has sufficient experience with the person or matter to  make a sufficiently justifiable decision about the subject matter or person.

*The greater the percentage of the people who agree with something, the more likely it is to have a solid basis in truth.

*It saves a person the time and effort of having to investigate the matter or person for him or herself, and therefore allows the person to concentrate on more pressing or enjoyable matters.


*Vulnerable to the Argument from Consensus Fallacy,

*Vulnerable to crowd psychology, demagoguery, and confirmation bias (the tendency to seek out and/or remember only the information that confirms our prejudices and other preconceived notions of how the world works, the nature of things, etc.

*Ignores that most people do not think deeply about most issues or people or question the quality of the evidence on which they base their decisions.  This is especially true regarding matters or people for which they have no intimate knowledge or interest, or matters of a highly complex, technical, or scientific nature - ones that don't lend themselves well to short and simple answers.

*Often an unreasonably conservative approach to determining truth, for it tends to favor the status quo even when it is in error.

*Strong tendency to belittle independent thought, even when the totality of all relevant evidence, facts, and arguments is on the independent thinker's side.

*Assumes the majority has a "God's-eye" view of all relevant facts affecting the truth or falsity of the "socially proved" claim.

So "Social Proof" isn't simply worthless through and through, but it should never be used as a substitute for using your own brain to determine the truth of a situation or person.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: Conclusion

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: My Personal Reasons

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Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: Benatar's Cost-Benefit Approach

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Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: Forms of Antinatalism

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Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: History of Antinatalism

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Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: Summary

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Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: Essay Series.

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I'm Back

It's been a while, but I am back.

For one thing I had a lot on my plate this past year, but things seem to be finally settling down for me. This gives me at least some spare time and energy to spare for this blog.

For another thing, I also ran out of things to say and, paradoxically, had a lot to say as well. Chalk it up to having trouble finding the right words to say to precisely articulate my thoughts. Now, I think I can express myself more effectively than I could months ago - including my actual reasons for coming out as a philosophical antinatalist (the view that procreation is not a desirable activity).

At the same time as I'm publishing my new posts (particularly my antinatalism ones), I'm also "cleaning up" my previous posts in order to make them more coherent for you, the reader.

Anyway, it is good to be back.