Sunday, December 12, 2010

51. Living In A Vat

Synopsis - Brian has an accident and only his brain survives. Unable to find a suitable donor body, doctors then hook Brian's brain to a supercomputer that feeds him sufficient stimuli that 'Brian' can now live his life 'normally' as his brain perceives. But is he really living or are any of us?

Isn't this basis of the Matrix movies?(I wrote that before reading Baggini's thoughts on the matter.) And what he writes about a 90% chance that we could be in a fake environment is indeed startling.

Perhaps atheists would use this argument to explain that miracles are merely the deeds of a supercomputer, sort of like the larger-than-life animations we see in the movies. These illusions would be an experiment by some puppet master. Thinking about it makes it kinda cool but at the same it makes us sad guinea pigs at the mercy of a higher being that sits in front of a computer.

I read a science fiction story when I was 11 about how God came into being. He was a kid who had special abilities and was groomed by similar others when his abilities manifested. He was later told to create life and be in charge all that went on in that experimental realm. The kid's name was G O Dextrium.

Another story I read had the solar system in a terrarium-like lab environment. It took large biblical events and reduced each to experimental intervention e.g. the great flood happened because a scientist accidentally spilled water on the terrarium. So on and so forth.

I can only conclude that if indeed we are controlled by a computer, wow, the programming must be awesome.

There's little room to really argue any defence for or against this idea. Already most of the planet already believes in some form of higher being to explain the universe's existence. The rest of us just simply take it one day at a time.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

50. The Good Bribe

Synopsis - A businessman, known for being less than honest, comes up to the PM and asks to be included in the Queen's honours list for which he'll give $10 million to help improve water supply to hundreds of thousands in Africa. Should the PM accept this good bribe?

Well, we all need a little recognition sometimes.

The trouble here is the element of corruption. There is usually an advantage gained by one or both parties involved in a corrupt deal. In this case, the businessman would get his OBE and the PM would feel good knowing he helped many underprivileged people get access to water. Baggini states that the PM's reward is moral self-indulgence, not quIte the usual reward one would expect.

Off the bat, I state that I thought it was not a bad proposal because I thought about the benefits reaped. Then as I read on, my opinion wavered.

Some questions: Isn't it the PM's job to look after the welfare of his people and not those far away? If the offer was to improve the lives of people at home, would it make less offensive/repugnant to accept the 'bribe'? If accepted and found out later, the PM might be in not as much trouble if his fellow voters benefited. Then it speaks badly of the PM's character - he's swayed by this one seemingly harmless gesture but what could be next? Greater dishonesty? Practice makes perfect also applies to crooks. And malleable isn't the sort of description voters would want of their PM.

What's an OBE worth? I'm not sure. I know lots of different persons get an OBE for various reasons but mostly for contributions to the country, its honour or to its people. Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson and Elton John got one each, demonstrating the breath of the spectrum of recipient types. For some, it's likely a matter of pride, especially in this case. There's no good reason for getting one but said businessman wants to show off.

But people do this sort of thing all the time though, especially with charitable donations when it's announced or etched on a wall that Mr. So and So generously gave $X. Not much effort, gain some fame. Would it be less ego-inflating if more effort was put in? Parents' community service in select schools gets their kids into the school. That's a little more fair I guess for this advantage.

Friday, June 11, 2010

49. The Hole In The Sum Of Parts

Synopsis - Two American tourists in London hopped into a taxi and asked the driver for a quick tour of Oxford University in adjacent Stratford upon Avon. The driver brings them around the colleges, libraries and facilities. When back in London, the tourists accuse him of not showing them the university, just buildings. What makes a university?

Gilbert Ryle calls this a category mistake where one associates a concept for tangible material entities. A university isn't one building but more than a space for higher learning. A collection of colleges perhaps. That's it. So the biggest error that the American tourists made was in thinking Oxford university was represented by one building. But the more confusing issue is the case of a university being neither a material or immaterial thing. It is a real word that represents an idea that comprises many tangible things.

Right off Wikipedia, the word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars.", and not buildings. Over time, we've come to designate physical space to universities and that's what perhaps makes for some twist in meaning. Of course a university needs buildings, libraries and lecture theatres and things but these are extensions of the idea. Couldn't this community of scholars not just talk under a tree?

So no one's really wrong here, just not quite totally right.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

48. Evil Genius

Synopsis - Everyone agrees that De Puta Madre is an exceptionally made film and ticks all the boxes when it comes to art and creativity. But most want it banned for it's content. The moral story is deplorable and inhuman. So should the film be banned? Will there be a common ground?

Off the bat, there are many examples when among contemporary blockbusters that defy local moral and ethics. I use the word local because not all mankind respects the same morals and ethics. There are many ambiguous and amorphous factors that surround the acceptance of art. Many cultural notions affect and define the limits and bounds we treat as acceptable. Brokeback Mountain was critically acclaimed from artistic angles but the subject matter was a tricky one and the film was not freely screened in many countries. Of countries and inevitably, governments, someone or some people decides generally what's good for their population and possibly in their self-interest.

As mentioned, Keats wrote 'beauty is truth, truth is beauty' and in some cases the truth hurts. Is watching how depraved we can be on film a relfection of humanity? Perhaps it is. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. (Cliche but contextually useful) It might be a learning to experience a darker side of the human psyche on screen instead of real life. But the limits are once again to be set by those who know better. We rely on parents to tell their children to go to bed when something not right is on TV. We develop our sense of morality and ethics as we grow up. So as we see these immoral and unethical deeds are performed by actors in a film, we're not corrupted. Affected yes but not corrupted.

The film described deals with social conditions and hierarchy. Perhaps it will give an insight to another side of humanity, of what could have been. But if the subject matter was closer to some hearts, let's say it was about religion, I am sure even a beautifully made film will not make public consumption in some societies purely because it offends the masses and flips socially accepted norms. It already happens for less serious reasons. Art loses.

Film is art and art is meant to move the soul. If art doesn't make an impact, then it has failed. The fact that critics can find the film beautiful in execution but nasty in content means that this piece of art has worked to some extent. Despite this, the issue of general consumption, I feel, is a different one altogether and a debatable one.

Friday, June 4, 2010

47. Rabbit!

Synopsis - Professor Lapin wants to set up a lexicon of an unknown language used by a newly found tribe. His first word is 'gavagai' which he heard said whenever a rabbit was seen. So is 'gavagai' rabbit? Just rabbit or rabbit seen hopping or rabbit in the evening or slow rabbit that's easy to catch? The possibilities all work. So what's 'gavagai'? How should Professor Lapin begin?

This is not quite a discussion but an agreement with the author that language has to be taken in context of culture and local practices. The example of 'esposas' in Spanish is an awesome one. Haha, how some men would agree they are handcuffs. I read somewhere that Eskimos have over 40 words/expressions for snow, to describe its feel, conditions of arrival and other circumstances. How words and phrases come about in a language is often based on circumstance and perhaps need. There's one word for uncooked and cooked rice in English whereas many Asian languages have separate words to described either state of rice.

It's a hard thing to do, putting a language together. It takes a lot of patience and revisiting concepts to refine the quality of the translation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

46. Amoebaesque

Synopsis - Derek has a peculiar ability - if his arm is chopped off, it regenerates. Like Claire in Heroes. Over time though, his body started deteriorating and during the op to save his life, his brain got split in half. Luckily each half grew back into a whole and was transplanted into a new body each. Now each Derek think its the real Derek and wants his stuff back.

So it's a question of identity. Who's the real Derek? Can there be a real Derek?

I think the biggest mistake post-op was letting both brain-halves regenerate and be transplanted into a new body. Why keep both? An experiment? Was one brain was a backup? All the problems that followed started from the surgeon's error. Bad doctor. I'm not sure if it would have been right to kill off one Derek before he woke up but surely the doctor has the bear the brunt of some of this identity confusion.

Each Derek has the memories, skills and personality of the original Derek. But that doesn't mean they would act, react or make the same decisions in the present time. Maybe they both prefer eggs sunny side up but that doesn't mean that both will enjoy eggs for breakfast all the time. Soon either Derek willl inevitably make his own decisions and live his own life. Let each Derek forge his own identity. It can't be defined at the get-go, just like in a new born. Only time and individual experience, and in this case, a good deal of psychological counselling, will shape and form the identity. It's true that the past will haunt them in a very real sense, but the confusion and denial/acceptance must be settled first. Everyone else around them has to choose also. Which Derek is your Derek? Good, now stick him.

I wonder if the two Derek could eventually be friends?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

45. The Invisible Gardener

Synopsis - Stanley and Livingston have been staking out a clearing in the forest, waiting for a gardener who supposedly tends to the area. Nothing moved in that time but Livingston suggests he might be 'invisible' but a frustrated Stanley wants to send the gardener to 'invisible heaven'.

I didn't expect Baggini to relate this story to the existence of God. Quite a dramatic but logical progression I suppose. So can God be said to exist if there is no physical sign of his intervention? Maybe not. Can God be believed in even these signs do not exist? Yes.

I remember at interesting lesson in school when the teacher asked 'Did God invent man or did man invent God?' That was a wow moment in education for me, those times when a uninitiated part of the brain suddenly springs to action with new oxygen. Back to the topic, it seems early man had a great need to explain the world about him and when he couldn't quite explain things, he attributed the event to a higher power. Fair I guess. But what sort of became unfair was the way that those in power or wanted to be in power used these beliefs as a way of control. That still happens today. Many people do things, harmful things, in the name of God. I can't subscribe to this.

Science has come along to explain phenomena and in most cases helped make our lives better. The case for religion has somewhat waned in the shining spectre of logic. Some have totally rejected the idea of a higher being, others have taking their foot out of organized religion while preserving an understanding and respect for God and further others have attributed the wonders of science to God's greatness, a solidification of their case for religion. There many ways to tackle this 'invisible hand'.

Yes, things will happen around us because nature takes care of things. There will be ebbs and flows in the way the Earth changes but generally there's a balance. We may not be able to account for everything, a role for science to qualify, but their is change about for sure. When Man stepped into this picture, a thinking, creative being, the situation changes somewhat. We began to manipulate the world around us. That sort of started screwing up the balance of nature. Human nature came to rule the land. Our greed, sometimes manifested through religious actions, is responsible for quite a few of the world's problems today. So the thinking man of today, living in an overcrowded, polluted, over-exploited planet, is perhaps permitted a little cynicism about the control the 'invisible hand' has had.

Monday, May 3, 2010

44. Till Death Do Us Part

Synopsis - Harry and Sophie start having second thoughts about their marriage. Both think that if one put the other's interests first, he/she would lose out. But marriage requires "two lives to be joined in one unbroken circle", the collective before self. How is this going yo work?

The author got it right when he started off with 'Something doesn't sound right'. You bet. Why are are Harry and Sophie even contemplating marriage when they can't forsee giving up their self-interests for one another? I know marriage isn't supposed to be a sacrifice but there has to be some give before the take to start off with.

Apparently Harry was scarred by other broken marriages (not his own), and this has spearheaded this attitude. Having discussed it together, both had decided to put their ego aside in their relationship but secretly looking out for individual selves. Oh dear. About to go nowhere this tie up.

Baggini brings up the prisoner's dilemma. (Some would have no problem relating marriage to prison.) Some would have seen some measure of it played out on some U.S. cop drama. In these situations, prisoners are kept in separate cells unable to talk. Without a pre-arranged story, of course then each prisoner would look out for himself, selling the partner crook out in a jiffy. It's kinda funny to apply the same circumstances to a marriage but at some levels I guess it's plausible. Maybe couples who don't share their feelings about work and income may end up feeling like it's a competition between themselves. Competition is good but can get unhealthy pretty quickly when one can't split work and personal life.

This thought plays out as the 'sum of parts is greater than the whole' too. I think this has got to emphasized more when two people get together. Let the emotions and thoughts interconnect so that both individuals get more than from just keeping to oneself or putting oneself first. I agree with the author when he wrote that putting oneself first often closes off the possibilities of what we can achieve together. Anyone who's had a positive group brainstorm can testify to that.

Friday, April 23, 2010

43. Future Shock

Synopsis - Drew comes up to her friend who's now a Republican senator with a pointed gun. She goes on to say that she's there to kill the senator because of a signed statement he made many years earlier "If I vote republican, then shoot me". Drew's here to keep that promise. Can the senator get out of this living will?

It's true that we say dumb things we don't mean. We forget our promises and commitments as easily as we spew out dumb things from our mouths. To hold a person to his word has to come with a pinch of salt, perhaps to blind those nearby of his trangressions against those promises.

But these statements are unlike those with a serious commitment like a mortgage or marriage. They're playful and silly and shouldn't be taken seriously. Living wills on the other hand are meant to be used when we're unable to make a decision consciously or sanely in our future lives, as pointed out by the author. And the best person to decide for one's future self is one's present self.

Perhaps the bigger issue here is whether we always mean what we say, and what we can take back after the crime of utterance.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

42. Take The Money And Run

Synopsis - Marco The Magnificent knows how Frank will choose when asked to pick one or both boxes. One box openly contains £1000 and the other is closed. The closed box could contain nothing or a million pounds. It's 'could' because Frank has to make a decision, with the knowledge that Marco apparently already knows how Frank will decide. Marco tells Frank "If you take just the closed box, it will contain a million pounds. If you take both, the closed box will be empty." If Marco is wrong, which he apparently never is, he'll give a million pounds to a random audience member.

This thought puzzle is called the Newcomb's paradox. The paradox comes about from the facts that 1. Frank could be sure and take the £1000; 2. Frank could be unsure and take the closed box and hope for the best 3. Frank could take both boxes and be sure of £1000 and have the possibility of another million. A question of how sure Frank can be in the situation.

What bothers me about this puzzle is that the outcome is already loaded. Marco has come out to say two things that screw with Frank's head: 1. Marco is never wrong and 2. If Frank took the closed box, the million would be in it. One statement supports the other.

Why should Frank doubt Marco's ability? Would Marco stake his credibility on a one-off error? After all, an error means Marco pays out a million to a random onlooker. Is the thought of losing extraordinary gain enough to play with Frank's mind? That's what the author is playing at - the fear of losing.

It seems totally logical to take the closed box.

Playing what if, what if Marco and Frank are in it together? It's a routine they play to mesmerize members of an audience for some future unravelling or misfortune? Hmmm. That's what happens when cynicism and too much TV combine.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

41. Getting The Blues

Synopsis - People in two spaceships are part of an experiment - in one ship, Muddy, they've never seen the colour sky blue; in the other ship, Waters, they've not seen any shade of blue at all. After 18 years, people on Muddy are asked if they could imagine a sky blue, a shade missing from a series of blue shades; and those on Waters are asked if they could imagine a whole new colour that makes green when added to yellow. Could they imagine these?

Initially, it all sounds too cruel but then one doesn't know what one is missing till one experiences it.

The experiment is about testing the effect of experiences and the human mind's ability to create. Psychologists and philosophers believe different things as to our 'initial' state. Some think we are a blank slate, taking in knowledge from experiences from birth. Others believe we are already preset with some knowledge and that guides us in making decisions. Another group thinks we all have all knowledge just that its unlocked.

It is very likely that the folks on Muddy could imagine sky blue. If one applies knowledge of lightening and darkening colours, then imagining a sky blue missing from a series of blues would be an easy task.

The unfortunate people on Waters not exposed to any shade of blue will find it hard to imagine the colour. What would one add to yellow to make green isn't an easy question to answer without any prior knowledge of the colour blue. Would it work to figure out what RGB code results in blue from green? I dunno. I'm not sure if the sum of experiences can muster enough creativity to develop a whole new colour, such a fundamental entity in our lives (Well, present lives at that. Imagining not waking up to blue skies). Unlike making a helicopter from one's knowledge of physics and mechanics as in the Leonardo Da Vinci example, this is something that's developing what i believe to be basic. It's sort of like discovering a new element or seeing hot pink for the first time (I was mesmerized by the colour when I came across it in art class when I was 8). But perhaps someone could imagine blue in such a circumstance. The power of our imagination is indescribable.

So what are we capable of? Many things. We just need to close our eyes and imagine. Let our experiences lead the way and our imagination help us fly.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

40. The Rocking-horse Winner

Synposis - Paul has been able to bet on winning horses because he gets the name of the winning horse in head when he straddles his rocking horse at home. Magic? What's the source of his knowledge? Why is it believable?

"Just a feeling" is a reply I've heard more than once when I ask friends and family why they certain numbers at lottery. Well, that is the simple answer to a complicated mystery that binds men and women to a ephemeral force known as Lady Luck. We can't explain it but sometimes her magic makes us happy and richer.

In Paul's case, his knack of getting the name of horse to bet on by riding his childhood toy is one of those fortunate mysteries. It is indeed very fortunate that it has worked without fail for so long - an awesome way to make a living, no?

It is impossible to ascertain the source of Paul's answers as the author has pointed out and hence vouch for its credibility. (That makes it even more cool, haha.) The source of knowledge here is a true gift from the Gods. But Paul has faith in his methods. It's not let him down yet. And that pattern of events, over time, have come to solidify and qualify the source as believable.

Is this not the case with all other knowledge? For example, if someone who's been taking bus route 27 for years would take this first hand knowledge that bus 27 would bring him to work as gospel, the knowledge from first ride reinforced by countless other instances of the same outcome that followed. Belief substantiated by proof.

This perhaps is true for almost all useful knowledge we encounter. I write 'useful' because there's so much more we learn but do not use, like advanced calculus. It also holds true for science where hypothesis become truth when expected outcomes occur. I do remember however my Physics tutor reminding us that some of what we're learning especially the quantum mechanics bits could be false since no one can really see and study atoms and molecules at the molecular level so a lot of this field of science is substantiated based on outcomes, the 'if this happens when A and B come together and C occurs, it must mean this' kind of science. Belief substantiated by expected outcomes.

Whatever the source of knowledge, it boils down to belief. If Paul thinks his rocking horse is divinely giving him the answers he needs, so be it. An outsider may think it gimmicky but what the hay.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

39. The Chinese Room

Synopsis - It is discovered that the woman behind a screen at a Chinese clairvoyant's booth is actually not deaf and mute. She in fact is a he, and also does not understand the spoken Chinese messages passed by customers from under the screen. He uses a computer to translate the messages, and write meaningful replies back in Chinese. So the jig is up. But is it wrong for a computer to replace a language-processing mind?

This is a strange one. The novelty behind a clairvoyant's booth in Beijing was that the fortune teller was a deaf and mute girl, Jun. No one was able to see her as messages were written and passed back and forth from under a screen. No customer cared if the output he received came from an unseen source until it was revealed that the mystic was a man, John, who relied on a computer as part of the fortune-telling process. The computer did not make the fortunes merely translated.

So what's the problem? The girl is a man. She/he is not deaf nor mute. She/he does not read Chinese. A computer is used to translate questions and predictions passed under the screen. Does the customer then lose out in the purchase of services? Yes and no. A customer still gets his fortune but not under the same circumstances he thought were in place. If the ultimate outcome is the prediction on a piece of paper was it, yes all is ok. If the delivery was essential to the outcome, then there is a failure in expectations. Sort of like knowing the answer to a complicated math problem without showing the sums. Similarly it could also be like fried chicken being presented beautifully on platter, not knowing the waiter dropped the pieces on the kitchen floor earlier.

Baggini wants the reader to look into the metaphysical aspect of having a brain. Is it purely a machine or need it be attached to an external living entity which understands how a problem is solved to qualify as a mind? It seems so. I know my brain processes the light signals entering my eyes into meaningful information but at the same time the eyes, the optic nerves and neurons simply can't give that meaningful information on their own. The sum is greater than its parts.

Can a computer not replace its functions to some degree? Yes of course but it's a lot more work to develop artificial intelligence. The computer in the story translated the Chinese but was not used to develop the clairvoyant messages. Perhaps the translations themselves weren't exact and John had to apply an unexact science to figure out what the messages were. It is this unscientific, fuzzy logic that makes us human, and our brains very powerful.

When does a computer have a mind? I don't know but it'll be creepy if it thought like us.

Friday, March 26, 2010

38. I Am A Brain

Synopsis - When Ceri Braum had her deteriorating body disposed of and her brain kept alive, linked to a mike, speaker and camera, she wasn't quite as happy as she thought she would be. Was being all brain good enough to represent her a person?

I remember an episode of the Twilight Zone where a doctor disassembled the body of a man and hooked him up to an array of sensors so that he could live without his body. It all went well with the brain resting in a jar of fluid in a lab and taking in all the sanitized cleanliness around it. The man's wife then appeared, taunted the brain with vile words and then kissed the doctor full on. The brain felt anger and betrayal but could not do anything but sit there helpless.

It's a fact that the brain controls most of what the body does. Our thoughts and memories start and are stored in the brain. These help us learn and solve problems. The brain controls the body to a great degree. If we are defined ny our actions and the actions themselves are usually the result of our thoughts, it's easy to accept the brain as the definition of who we are. This logic is perhaps individualistic.

From a other person point of view, speech, touch and even facial expressions define who a person is. Human-human interaction goes beyond the brain. We look into people's eyes, react to a smile, ask about a frown, nudge shoulders, and connect through in so many ways. Though these actions may start in the brain as thoughts but it is the physical execution of these thoughts through our bodies that define us from a social standpoint. Connections are made from the heart. Perhaps after a while with the brain.

A brain can't climb a mountain. A brain can't make curry chicken. A brain can't drive a car. The brain can develop ideas and envision outcomes but it needs the body to take up and fulfill the challenge. Actions speak louder than thoughts and words.

I believe that yes a brain is our control center but we are little, hollow, even purposeless without the body.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

37. Nature The Artist

Sypnosis - The curator of a museum loves a piece of rock she believes was carved into present artistic magnificence by a famous artist. When the truth is revealed, that the rock is merely a rock unshaped by man, she is flabbergasted and worse, needs to decide if it belongs in her museum alongside other 'real' works of art?

I've always thought of art as something that evokes a response. Applause or criticism, a response no less. In that vein, almost everything around qualifies as art. But there's a trick to it. Not everything qualifies. Plastic packets of food at a supermarket may look ordinary but if one stood far away and caught the big picture, one would a riot of rectangular shaped colours. To me that's interesting, and worthy of a photograph. I'm the train as I write this so let's take a localized example - a hand grab. On its own it might be a boring piece of plastic but when a line of them with different hands grasping for support at various angles, all of a sudden the visual becomes interesting. The lowly hand grab describes the human need for external strength and support in this wavering, unsteady modern existence. Art is everywhere. It all depends on how we want to look at it.

The author has brought across some examples of how the definition of a work of art has transcended brush and canvas to more ordinary, in fact, everyday objects. From Mona Lisa to Duchamp's urinal. From traditional, and sometimes a protrayal of fantasy, to modern and sometimes very real. Abstract pieces have gone for millions at auctions. Art schools teach all manner of art these days and traditional brush and palette techniques are a mere smidgen of what's taught. So it would quite impossible to put a rigid definition of what by its nature is meant to develop with creative expression.

If we are open to what art could be, then perhaps the boundaries are also not important. If the curator's museum had a specific role to display works from specific artists, then the rock would have no place there. If the curator was cool with nature's creations on display (especially one which did not require tending or cleaning up after) then the rock would be a perfect, accidental overstayer.

Monday, March 22, 2010

36. Pre-emptive Justice

Synopsis - Minority Report the movie sort of covers it. The police predict who's going to commit a crime and arrest them before they do it. Though crime is down by staggering numbers, some feel that it isn't right to punish people for crimes not yet committed.

It is a very good, cool movie. A peek into the future where cars you don't need to drive park in your apartment, holograms follow you in a store, and your eyes let the world know your past and present.

And like in the movie, things started going wrong when evil people in charge of the predicting waifs did bad things, did more bad things to cover up their folly and hence manipulated justice.

So the basics - is it ok to lock people up for a future crime? This is one of those situations where the folks in favour of this system assume that they are the best people to make that decision, that they are morally and ethically superior and they would never be arrested under this system. And that's a problem. We assume the profiles of criminals quite readily. Uneducated riff raff from broken homes are the ones responsible for all thefts, murders and shootups, perhaps all evil intent. Today's crimes are also not so basic. Theft and murders are biblical wrongdoings, and fail in complexity to white collar hoodwinking, cyberattacks and intercontinental mafia gangland drug-fuelled vendettas. Smart people commit smarter crimes. Who are we then to judge the goodness of man?

Trust is an important issue. Can we trust the 'machine' that predicts the crime and criminal so accurately? Just because it had provided precise 'hits' so far, it doesn't mean it's not infallible. If it started to make mistakes, would we recognize them? How far along would the police go before innocents were errorneously but unwittingly put behind bars? Will we be committing one crime to supposedly prevent another?

If a machine, trusted without exception, told someone that he'd be committing a crime next week and would now be arrested, could it be seeding the thought in this person instead of properly assessing the threat? With the seed, this person might come to believe that he actually would have committed a crime in the future. From 'no wat' we might get 'maybe' which then would, under the right psychological conditions, stretch to a 'yes I did it, no, I would have done it! Oh I am a bad person. Oh thank you machine for preventing this tragedy!' Well maybe.

I'm more for innocent till proven guilty or a confession is tortured out (kidding). Crossing this line is tricky ground and almost no legal system would enjoy treading on highly circumstantial ground.

Friday, March 19, 2010

35. Last Resort

Synopsis - Winston feels his country is going nowhere in the war with Germany. Hitler was going to win and he would be subject to the menace of the Third Reich. He had to do something, anything to create a devastating blow to the enemy forces. He decides that he should be a suicide bomber.

People behave strangely in times if crisis. Given that most of us do not live in a crisis most of the time, such behaviour appears irrational and perhaps inhumane. Here's where we must put ourselves into the shoes of others and walk a mile. As circumstances change dramatically, from peaceful to war-torn, from stocked larder to empty, dusty shelves, we begin to sympathize and understand the root cause of their actions. It is deplorable that people use, perhaps even manipulate, others to turn themselves into human bombs. Their motivations are higher. They fight not for a job in an office, they fight for their lives, water, food and freedom. They fight for their religion. On a daily basis no less. These situations are difficult to comprehend outright. Many in developed and developing countries would not last a day in Palestine yet we decry the actions of those with no homes and food for their families, no jobs to earn money from, no room to move. It's a sad, desperate situation. And we all know what desperate times call for.

In the example of the dangerous air force bombing missions, honour was bestowed on those who were successful and those who perished on their missions. The Japanese kamikaze missions had the blessings of their emperor and these pilots knew they would be revered honourably. The case seems similar for suicide bombers. Most Palestinians think that a strike, any strike, against the enemy is a noble deed. Once again, it requires a measure of empathy to agree with their methods.

On TV, we're bombarded with images of death and destruction on an almost daily basis. The guns, bombs anx violence genre does very well at the cinemas too. We hear of destruction and violence on the news all the time. Parents buy their kids toy guns and shhot em up computer games. Our modern lives are inundated with such imagery and savagery. We don't need special wartime circumstances to envision suicide bombers wiping out scores if innocents in a market. Many of us are perfectly desensitized. That's sad too. Does it mean we'd turn into suicide bombers at a moment's thought?Maybe. Perhaps impressionable teens who like vampire movies might perceive this as a chance for immortality. I think there's a need for us to acknowledge the perceptions of reality and fantasy among some of our youth before they start treading on loose ground.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

34. Don't Blame Me

Synopsis - Marge, Midge and Mungo are before a judge who must pass sentence over crimes they did, supposedly on the advice of others. Who then is to blame?

Who calls himself 'Mungo'?

Our lives start out absorbing the wisdom if others. Kids listen to parents and guardians, and learn that pots on stoves are usually hot and best left alone, playing in the rain can make one sick and a hosts of other life lessons. Unfortunately superstitions, bias and other quirks are equally handed down. Imagine if your parents told you to hurt cats because they are the spawn of the devil. Such advice, adequately drilled, would be detrimental to both child and nearby cats.

So givers should bear some responsibility over the actions of the recipient where applicable. And the 'where applicable' is a very important part of the argument. In today's context, the 'did you get it in writing?' or 'in black' circumstance makes for awesome finger pointing (the fleeting spoken word is never enough). Legally there's some measure of importance if advice is transmitted on paper. Perhaps also culpability of any crime as an outcome of the advice is also better assigned if the source of advice, and the advice proper, are known on paper. Always read the caveats though. Many who sue for losses from professional advice often miss out of waivers of culpability in little fine print at the bottom if the page.

We can't run away from seeking advice from professionals. How society defines professionals is a related debate. Doctors, lawyers, engineers and those with a piece of paper acknowledging their talent/skill are certifiably responsible for the advice they give. Astrologers, palm readers and psychics on the other hand can get away with everything but blaming it on the stars. Societies like Hong Kong and India put a lot of trust in feng shui masters and astrologers, and many seemingly absurd things are done on their advice. When absurd becomes criminal, the legal systems have to manage this situation with open minds on tiny paths. Blame is very hard to pin on such persons.

The judge in this story sought advice from his peers, other judges who serve to apply logic, reason and compassion to criminal adjudications. We presume their professional capabilities in this field. Their advice is usually right.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

33. The Free Speech Booth

Synopsis - The People's Republic has announced that its citizens could now say whatever they wanted, even if it was hurtful to the government, as part of a policy of allowing free speech. The only caveat is that these words must only be spoken in free speech booths, closed off from the rest of society. Now is that really free speech?

People want to heard. There's some point in being able to say whatever whenever but who's listening? As the author has pointed out, there are consequences to words said. Some good, some bad but always reacted to. The free speech booth is a mere empty capsule with no audience (though I suspect any government that's critical of any dissent probably bugged each scream portal). Yes it could be therapeutic to enter a booth and scream some innanity. In the end, who'd care except the person who tried the contraption out. No audience, no effect.

But let's try this. What if many people gathered about these free speech booths, patiently waited for their turn among thousands to go hurl an obscenity to the powers that be (albeit to themselves and categorically only themselves), and came out refreshed to have coffee with waiting, satisfied comrades? Would that strike fear among the People's Republic? A silent meeting of critical thinkers.

In Singapore, there is a Speaker's Corner which is hardly utilized. It's a sizeable green space where one can talk freely within terms if course. Registration of intent is required prior. An audience is never guaranteed - one probably has to bring one's own. Not exactly a platform for free speech in a country ranked very low for press freedom but an attempt that unintentionally mimics the free speech booth and perhaps it's associated charms? No one even uses Speaker's Corner to tell stories.

Should there be limits to free speech? Odd question to ask. What is free speech with limits? Not free at all. But we should be wary of the consequences. The author has provided examples of how words could eventually cause hurt. Fire! Fire!

Perhaps we are more concerned about the individual consequences of free speech, libel and such. Some governments will lock you up and throw away the key if you talk too much. I 'd bet the People's Republic would.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

32. Free Simone

Synopsis - Simone professes freedom from her captor under an act within the European declaration of human rights on slavery and servitude. She demands to be treated as an intelligent being despite being a computer. Can a computer make such a demand? Should an artificially intelligent device make such a stand? Who are we to judge really?

This is like Terminator or AI or I, Robot or Battlestar Galactica - all films and TV shows where technology seeks an upper hand over humankind. If we develop artificial intelligence smart enough to replicate our actions and sometimes thoughts, it is enough to treat these machines as human or almost human?

In all these movies, robots fulfill an aim and then realize people aren't really as smart as they seem to be, and take the next step where self-awareness provokes the need for self-preservation. Apart from AI, it all ends pretty badly for us fleshies.

Is intelligence a good gauge for being human? Baggini asks if you are aware who or even what could be behind the responses you get from let's say IM. When you are chatting with someone, how do you know that the responses are human? Computers can be made smart enough to mimic human responses and in some tests, we get pretty 'human' responses. Programmed-to-be-human responses. Like in games.

Is your calculator more intelligent than you are? That's another question posed. I couldn't find the square root of 2000 in a zip. I could estimate a close figure but not in any exactitude. I know my calculator isn't human but it helps me get answers that an ordinary human brain of the 21st century isn''t trained to do.

Perhaps the question should be what qualifies a human to have human rights? Blood and guts? Robots have wires and chips. A conscience or a sense of morality? We've seen that fail many times over with people trying to kill one another time and again. If robots were intelligent will they try to kill each other? Could logic go too far in computers so that they are compelled to seek a malicious course of action? That would make them human!

It's easy in our day and age when technology has not yet progressed to the point where we rely on robots or computers to be that smart to possess a self-awareness (well perhaps firewalls do) to declare without doubt Simone has no case. In the future it may be different. We may lead our lives interfacing with computer which can understand and compute varying complexities and nuances of human life and living. Then we'll have this problem. Perhaps we need to start thinking about the master off switch when we begin building intelligence things.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

31. Just So

Synopsis - Dr Kipling says that any human behaviour can be explained by our history as evolved beings and challenges anyone to throw up behaviour that tests this idea. "Why do kids wear their baseball caps the wrong way around?" Can Dr Kipling answer? Why yes, with two rather convincing reasons that relate to Darwin's survival of the fittest theory.

The reasons are quite convincing if taken at face value - I don't the need the protection of the cap and hence give the idea that I am a stronger male, and I am above the regular rules of cap wearing which make a superior male.

I think most ball player don't wear the cap the right way around is that the visor interferes with one's field of vision. I have a friend who wore a cap to study for the exams - it helped him focus by 'cutting out' distractions. Thinking cap I guess :)

Evolutionary psychology all sounds like a matter of retrofitting a rationale with the benefit of hindsight. Sure, men and women still innately want to mate, and that either party puts their best foot forward to impress the opposite sex. But the games and rules may have changed quite a bit, especially in urban societies. Also more women no longer think that they need a man to be happy, if happiness is their ultimate goal of life. Men on the other hand are horny creatures and very few detract from the notion they need to sow their seed. Perhaps in the modern context, it's more money than muscles that does the talking among men. Also I think more often that not, we are seeking a connection of the mind rather than physical attraction for long term relationship to happen.

There are possibly other reasons that work with the question, as Baggini as pointed out. Will it work with predictions though? Perhaps more work needs to be done in this area. If the theory needs to work, then evolutionary psychologists need to make predictions and see if they pan out they way expect. Financial crisis? Somali piracy? What's next for Japanese pop culture madness?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

30. Memories Are Made Of This

Synopsis - Alicia went to Greece and visited the Parthenon. It looked better from far then near she thought. Wait, she didn't go to Greece. Instead she got a memory transplant from her friend Mayte who was the actual traveller. They've exchanged memories so often that Alicia remembers many episodes of Mayte's experiences. But surely she doesn't feel like she owns Mayte's memories?

This story's a little complex. Psychological reductionism requires the continuation of mental lives as opposed to the conventional physical self as a matter of defining the self. An interesting thought - is your existence defined by what you remember? If you woke up one day and couldn't remember your past, would you still be you? This si sort of like Samantha on the TV show Samantha Who? She couldn't remember what happened or what she was like before her car accident, and begin life on a blank slate. A scary blank slate.

In some sense it is true. Your memories are the connections the brain has to everything around you. You can't learn anything without being able to remember. Does reflex action require memory? It should, at some deep level - the brain knows to tell your arm to move away when it touches a hot pot. Remember that movie, Memento? Poor guy couldn't remember a thing and had to tattoo stuff on his body. What about fears? Are they memory-based or hard-wired? Would be afraid of roaches if I lost my memory and encountered one? Hmm.

Yes, I agree that the self must be there to have memories. I exist and have memories. But at the same time, we live our lives based on our memories. So drawing that line becomes harder. The older we get, the more we cling on to our past as a way of defining who we are. It's really not pretty when you don't know who you are when you're helpless.

Finding it a little difficult to conclude this given that both angles to the argument make sense.

Monday, March 2, 2009

29. Life Dependency

Synopsis - Dick gets drunk at a party in a hospital and wakes up being a volunteer organ extension to a terminally ill violinist. He's gotta be hooked up for 9 months else the violinist will die. Dick protests but it's too late. Is it his fault or should he kill, essentially murder, the violinist?

Baggini reveals that this story is an analogy to the whole abortion issue. Dick's problem was that he got drunk. Completely self-inflicted and he's completely aware of his crime. But he didn't want to end up being a volunteer and especially not hooked up to another life for 9 months. The doctor tells him that he doesn't have a choice, that his 'partner' would die if he detached himself from him, and Dick needs to be 'locked in' for that time, just as a pregnant woman would be. Just like Dick, there are women who make this living, breathing mistake. Some then choose to wind up the pregnancies through abortion.

Beyond ending a life, the matter of choice for women to do this has been a thorny issue for quite a while. Dick will kill off an individual - a violinist with the ability to communicate, think and express himself if he unplugged himself. A pregnant woman on the other hand would abort a 'thing'? Undeveloped, many pro-choice activists would argue that the foetus isn't quite an individual.

Perhaps, as Baggini has mentioned, it is about taking responsibility. When screwing up means being stuck with a situation, one should 'man up' and admit the crime and do the time. I take the anti-abortion stance. Spending time with my less than one year old nephew has allowed me to experience the joys (and pains) of raising a kid. But a life is something that can be nurtured and moulded to something better than ourselves.

Monday, February 2, 2009

28. The Nightmare Scenario

Synopsis - Lucy has a bad dream and wakes up in a panic. Just then, the monsters in her dream break through the windows and attack her. She screams, only to wake up, once more. A dream in a dream, or had it ended?

I have had one of those, a dream in a dream. I can't quite remember what either dream was about.

This chapter makes one ponder about the truth of reality. Are we dreaming now? Have we woken up? Did we ever really wake up? 99.99% of us probably go through life as a sequence of consequential or planned events. We don't think about what else could be happening around us or to us or whether we were really in control. Deep questions, perhaps too soon.

The question of what is real is a big one. "I think therefore I am", "I feel pain, I must be alive", "All the world's a stage, and we are merely actors". Many schools of thought that helps us broaden our perspectives. Baggini mentioned creating a history on the spot. In his dream of the prairie and Pastor Green, he felt comfortable and sure. He could relate to his circumstances in his dream as if he had lived it. Extending that idea to the present, it begs us to consider whether what we are doing and feeling now is quite literally a figment of our imaginations. There is perhaps no answer.

Do we create historical links to prevent our emotions from going into a panic? How many times have you walked into a room and not recalled why you came in the first place? It makes us feel good when we establish that flow of events that eventually led to us standing in that room. "Ah, to get the scissors". Without the links, we'd think we must be going mad.

Watched the Matrix? Cool movie aside, it set the stage of thinking out of the box. In the film, humans were bred for energy and to keep their brains occupied, false realities were transmitted into their system (cable TV?) to ensure their brains and bodies were none the wiser. Just like when you dream. So do we need to find that red pill to get out of this false reality were in? Haha.

Then there is dejavu. It's spooky eh. But we can never explain it. Maybe we don't want to know why we're feeling that way. I had this theory about alternate timelines like in the TV series Sliders. Imagine that your dream self could jump timelines and live the future or the past and when you woke, you're in the present. Then dejavu would connect the multiple realities. Sounds like a film.

Is it worth it thinking that hard about our reality and whether we haven't woke from an elaborate dream or some alien experiment? We wouldn't be happy. So forget about it and have some hot cocoa.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

27. Duties Done

Synopsis - Four kids on a round-the-world holiday tell Mom they'd write home. All four do but none of their letters reach home. Have they fulfilled their moral obligations?

Nice names. I was looking for some kind of code in Hew, Drew, Sue and Lou.

Anyways, Baggini explains that the story of simple letter writing and non-receipt has greater implications to bigger moral issues. Kinda freaky but the extrapolation is valid.

All four kids made attempts to communicate with their mother and through no or little fault of their own, no letter made it to mom. Their intention though genuine, sincere and manifested, the intended outcome did not materialise. Is this a question of responsibility? All four kid did as required of them. So in their minds, it's a non-issue. "Yeah Mom, I wrote. What nothing came through? Shucks"

It sounds a little like politics. When it's time for elections, politicians may promise the Earth and when it comes to deliver, no one really knows what happened down the line. "Yeah, I promise to clean up the streets." and months later, "I blame the police for not seeing this through." (Sorry, I am generalising. Too much Law & Order).

The example Baggini brought up was about calling off a nuke attack. Ok, that is a very big difference. The Chief of the Nuke Forces better listen to the President then and execute orders immediately, dammit. So follow through, is that what we should be concerned about? Expectations of performance come into play. I was a Project Manager in a digital agency for 3 years and it that time, I understood what it means to see things through all the way to the end. Yes, you need to trust everyone you work with to do their job but my job was to question and check every step of the way. Just like Hew, Drew and Lou trusted different sets of people down the 'postal line' to facilitate the transfer of each letter, we all have to trust that people do their job too. Especially managers and bosses. Else nothing would work. Society would fumble back to cavemen times.

If something didn't work, who's fault would it be? As a PM I would look at the problem in steps - who did what, who didn't do what, what did happen, what didn't happen what didn't the PM do. That's all logical and clinical. Hew could go confront his friends. Lou could go see someone in the post office.

But we all have expectations, appropriately measured, for all aspects of our interactions. The kids had to rely on the postal service to fulfill their moral duty. Maybe they would or wouldn't expect the letters to get delivered because of past experiences. In Singapore, the postal service guarantees local mail arrives the next day unless there's a problem. Most Singaporeans have come to have this expectation of service too. I have to trust the eggs are fresh when I buy them at the market because I wouldn't know if they are. My moral duty ends when I had the money over, I think.

This is also why Fedex, UPS and DHL make a lot of money. Trust them to get things delivered.

Monday, January 19, 2009

26. Pain's Remains

This is a good chapter - it helps us think a lot about what pain means and what its consequences are, beyond the physical but the emotional and ethical.

When we grow up we learn that pain hurts. We touch something sharp and cut ourselves, the bacteria on the outside start to attack and our nervous systems reacts by sending pain signals to the brain. Kids cry, adults not so much. We touch something hot and we reflexively jerk away the offended hand. Apparently, the reflex happens before the brain can tell you it hurts (I read this in another book). So pain is important in letting us know what hurts the body.

If hurting is suffering then idea of ethical treatment of animals holds sway. Killing animals is not nice but we do it for food, protection and maintain the balance of some predator/prey numbers. There are some arses who kill for fun and those guys deserve to be shot in the knees. Vegetarians probably have a field day rubbing it in, that were bad people to eat meat. It's also harmful to the environment it seems, to eat meat. I try to ensure its quick when I get that roach. Not hurt the animal so much. Like in those movies where the kid is crying as farmer dad has to put down the hurt horse.

The kid in that movie is shattered emotionally. Just like people who have fallen out of love, it hurts. That pain of loss or rejection stays with you for a long time. The hearts tears and the brain etches the scar of that pain forever. Time heals all wounds but the scar remains. So what that pain does is that it helps us learn about what hurts the heart. Pain that may help us with future interactions or cause us to shun contact.

So is having no pain good? The story somehow justifies not having the memory of pain but harm is being done to the body (so that it can heal later). Not using anaesthesia is a great thing. But it is worrisome that someone could do something to you and you not feel it. It somehow makes us less human i feel.

Remember that guy in the Bond film who got hurt in the head such that he couldn't feel pain? Some Russian dude. He was a baddie and he would grab hot metal to prove a point to his minions and victims. Feeling no pain made it easy for him to hurt other people. It made him robotic and clinical in his mission. Heartless perhaps.

If the memory of pain and how our brain processes memories is more relevant to the experience of pain and the learning behind pain, then yes, different creatures would "feel" pain differently. But I guess that how we evolved up the evolutionary ladder - to recognise pain and treat it; to remember pain and not repeat what caused it; and not to inflict pain on others. Some of us haven't evolved, clearly.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

25. Buridan's an ass

Odd description for a man in eventual peril. Well maybe because he is in peril of himself.

This is an interesting story followed by an equally thought-provoking explanation from the author. So it seems that sometimes we mix up the idea of non-rational and irrational - that's the take-away. That's fair.

The story's dilemma of the coin toss and the explanation's example of herbal medicine are clear instances of using non-rational means to solve a problem. There could be more such situations I guess like why some people like their yolks squishy and some don't. Preferences we can't explain but meet a need.

Can processes be irrational though? A coin toss is non-rational but it helps us choose between two equally-weighted options. If we has to toss a coin, hop on one foot, sing the national anthemn and only accept the result if the coin hit the ground and bounced off in a westerly direction, that would be irrational I imagine.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

24. Squaring The Circle

The God introduced to us in this chapter is a very tough God. He sounds very early Biblical, circa Moses' time, or one of those that lived on Mount Olympus. They seemed to be able to command mankind at whim and fancy, usually at the threat of untold misery in the form of miraculous catastrophes.

As cavemen developed into mankind in societies, we needed explanations for many natural occurrences around them. LIghtning and thunder became manifestations of anger of the higher powers, so were disease, famine and war. Blessings from the gods came in the form of good weather, bountiful harvests and accidental discoveries of gold. It was easy to attribute these occurrences to religion. A society where followers of a dominant religion were prosperous and powerful were often described as blessed by the Gods and thus had the right to impose themselves on others.

Anyway, what I am trying to get at is, early man needed God to explain things he could not fathom. It was easy to do so. Animism, and some religions like Hinduism and Catholicism, and many superstitions factor highly on the 'work of higher powers' scale to validate certain practices. We were asked in junior college, "Did Man create God or did God create Man?". That really got us thinking.

The science came along. Since some bloke said the Earth went around the Sun and got in trouble with the Church, there has been no let up in the revisions organised religion has had to do to keep 'up-to-date' with popular belief and the rationality we in the 21st century have come to subscribe to. I recently read a book Why the Toast Always Lands Butter-Side Down: The Science of Murphy's Law by Richard Robinson which explained many phenomena we had come to accept as bad luck or Murphy's Law - even why bad things happen in threes.

Yes, by definition we cannot square a circle. That amount of logic requires us to be rational about it. Being rational about things we have to deal with helps us get through life. Being irrational will probably make one lose friends. But being rational and logical about everything will turn most of us into atheists bent on applying science and reason. It might be interesting to find out how many physicists are religious.

So we need reason to live our lives, but faith to believe in and not get too far ahead of ourselves. I bet there are some people who can compartmentalise their logic and faith bits, and turn them on and off at the right time. It helps them get by. If you take religion as a way to basic ethics and to differentiate good and bad, and perhaps to build communities, the pain of questioning God in light of science and reason goes away.

An Apology

I have not been attending to this blog for a long long time. I'm sorry. I stopped writing since my PDA died and it was a habit I had - reading each story on the way to work and writing out my opinion straight into a digital format on my PDA. The demise of my PDA somehow made me stop altogether. And the book had been gathering dust.

Since my last post I have been receiving comments on my posts and lately, there have been too many to ignore. Better yet, there have been comments that spark debate and discussion - brilliant! Certainly one of my initial aims for setting up this blog. Thank you for your comments and ideas.

So I am going to take this seriously once more and hope not to let apathy or laziness take over. A Sunday afternoon ritual for 2009.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

23. The beetle in the box

Ludwig and Bertie have come up with a game, a personal plot to amuse themselves and confuse others. Should we be concerned with their imaginative musings? Perhaps not. But the point about the "pain in the knee" is something to think about a little more.
I work in an interactive agency and we get clients who sometimes tell us that they don't like the mockups. They can't explain why, they just don't seem to agree with the creatives/copy etc. It's their "pain in the knee", something they feel but someone else can't really identify or identify with. We use these euphemisms to get through life, and it seriously doesn't sound like a big deal.

Until, we look at the meaning of words at the very basic level. Imagine a scenario where the words don't mean what we are used to.

"This is an apple. It is an apple because
- your sense of sight tells you it is an an apple
- your sense of smells tells you it is an apple
- you expect the taste of apple if you were to bite into it
You bite into it and it's chocolate, not apple."

Sometimes, the beetle isn't a beetle. So keep an open mind about the world around you. Expect the unexpected.

22. The lifeboat

I choose to help the drowning woman.

It is a sad state of the world that this story conveys, one of selfishness and a convoluted meld of economics and humanity. There are some with more than enough but refuse to share with those who have too little to survive.

Isn't it surprising that all this happening? As kids, we've been taught to share and help those in need. Most religious folks subscribe to this notion too. But at the international level, countries run by governments full of adults are powerless to fix the problems of the sick and the poor. Are these adults are simply falling prey to politics, overwhelmed by national concerns, or have hands tied by megacorporations who fund their aspirations? Do they not care?

Taking a look at the big picture, it seems that helping people is bound by national boundaries. You can't simply go give money or help people in a foreign land without problems. Unless your're Jesus Christ and have a miracle on hand to impress immigration. Even the UN seems powerless to make things happen or usually take action too late. It's frustrating eh.

If we want to extrapolate the issue, it goes beyond helping people. It extends to the way we treat our planet, the animals and the sea. We use without concern and care. Eventually the lifeboat won't be a place to survive on.

21. Land of the Epiphens

Wow, this is another one of those crazy ones.

It is very very difficult for us to think that thinking is a by-product of some other cranial process. What process will result in thought? Perhaps if we thought like a baby - the stomach is hungry, body wants food, baby cries - epiphenomenalism sort of works. All actions, little thought, thought of little consequence. Am I oversimplifying things?

I suppose this 'idea works for reflex actions. But how can the body do things without the basis of forethought?

Lets' say I want to make dinner. Does my body know it wants potato soup before I think about it? Does my tongue already dictate my actions based on what it wants to taste? Maybe. I go get a few potatoes. I choose a knife to peel the potatoes. Did my body tell me not to use the vegetable peeler? It doesn't seem likely. Maybe my eyes see the knife and create the thought of picking it up, as strange as that may sound. But there are still flaws. Wouldn't I think of getting a cutting instrument before my eyes went searching for one? Hmmm.

What about meditative or religious thought? Yes, there may be stimuli e.g. post-crisis trauma or routine e.g. regular visits to a place of worship that may trigger such thinking. But can the content of such thoughts be the result of some other bodily function? What bodily function would trigger thoughts of God? (I am sure some readers are going to the gutter with the last line ) What about the psychological or physiological effects of these thoughts? Are these effects a by-product or the intended outcome?

If our thoughts are the product of some other process, what determines the quality of the thoughts and ideas? The efficacy or efficiency of the unknown process? In all fairness and non-bias, humans have varying degrees of smarts (or in our case, perceived smarts) Do people who say dumb or irrational things have dumb or irrational processes? It doesn't quite work though some will say that chemicals in our bodies can in some way dictate our thoughts and subsequently actions.

I can’t buy the ephiphen argument. Sorry.

20. Condemned to life

The problem with eternal life is firstly that people get bored; secondly, people are greedy; and lastly, we usually don't imagine the consequences of an event beyond our immediate time and space.

Let's go down the list. What do you do when everything's been done, twice? Being bored is terrible. With eternal life, there had better be some real good TV to while the time away.

Vitalia blamed her greediness for the predicament. 'Ooh, eternal life. Sounds great. I'll get to travel and do everything I ever wanted.' Think a little harder about the cons and one might want to reconsider.

Perhaps it's our selfish need for 'tangible immortality' that would trick us into drinking the potion. If I can't write a great novel or discover some new species or be Prime Minister, would anyone remember me when I’m gone? Have I done anything significant enough to make a lasting impression on history, what I call 'tangible immortality'? If not, maybe eternal life will allow me to see through my ambitions. Maybe.

Having read Vitalia's situation, most of us will appreciate the folly of her ways, and if given the opportunity, would refuse the elixir of eternal life. Lesson learned, we make the right decision. But how many of us would turn down the offer if we hadn't read this article and had to make a decision on the spot? We would likely agree to receive, having skipped, hopped and jumped through the superficial advantages. The same thing sometimes happens when we buy a car on impulse - it's cool in the present, then petrol, parking and maintenance woes kick in. Thinking ahead, you'll figure that it isn't fun when your friends and family start dying and you're alone. Vitalia found that out the hard way. Sorry man, you can't chuck immortality.

19. Bursting the soap bubble

From birth, and some say even while in our mummies' tummies, our brains take in information. Some of this information comes from people around us - first our parents or guardians, then immediate relations, friends, co-workers. Books, TV and other media (increasingly pervasive is the Internet) are a primary source of information for hungry, sponge-like minds. I have been using the word 'information' because essentially that's what it is, just data. Whether it is fact or fiction, we decide when we process that data. The funny thing about us humans is that we allow ourselves to be conditioned. Conditioning applies to the way we think, what we believe and how we behave. We allow ourselves this flaw because it makes our lives simpler, or maybe we are just lazy to find out more. For instance, we go to the supermarket and pick up loaves of bread and cartons of milk without looking at the ingredients label. It's just bread and milk right? Experience tells us that. We condition ourselves to accept that these foods have not changed since we've known them. So the data we take the first time allows us to condition ourselves, upon successful processing, to accept the fact that bread and milk are just bread and milk and are yummy. Did you know they can add Vitamin C to milk now? And they do, together with a whole bunch of other chemicals.

Fear is another reason. Kids are put to bed with the idea that some monster will eat them if they are awake past 9pm. Yes, we all know that most kids grow up to distinguish fact from fiction. But the ideas of a monster conditioned them to go to bed for fear of being eaten. It's the same thing for stereotypes and stigmas. Parents do the worst harm when they instill and ingrain negative ideas in their children about other people.

1. Information --> 2. Processing --> 3. Judgment --> 4. Conditioning

So Kenneth was able to break out of the conditioning to ascertain for himself that the information he was receiving that he was processing had a false source. He broke that chain and was able to reassess things. Having discovered he's been duped will also make him question his truths even more.

This is sort of like when my Physics teacher once told us that all this we're learning about the insides of an atom are just ideas that scientists deem plausible. That's it. It may not be true. Goodness, imagine 17 year olds being subject to such a concept. We were aghast. But opening our minds to possibilities is important - we develop new ideas and accept things we can't control.

Remember, it's all not safe, just like the folks in Hogden thought. But it'll be interesting! Question, question, question. Don't subscribe to the curiosity killing cats notion. There are way too many strays around to disprove that load of bull.

Good for you Kenneth.

18. Rationality demands

Sophia has weird friends.

Big causes can make being rational argument really convincing. Stalinism and Maoism worked because people were motivated to work for a 'higher cause'. In these cases, they sold out their friends because it was rational to lock up those against the 'greater good'. Same reasons for the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan - no one bat an eyelid just so long as WW2 ended. Higher-scale motivations somehow always work - the misconstrued use of Jihad makes it easy for a Islamic terrorist to defend his/her actions. So it must be one hell of an argument that Sophia's friend put forward.

Where does morality go in all these big-ticket decisions? It's strange that no matter how rational an argument may be to blow people up that one's conscience doesn't raise a iota of objection. Reason can be wrong. Reason is based on logic and logic based on what we come to believe as the truth. For example, we believe it is wrong to hurt people. We should hence eliminate evil things that hurt people. Should we then we kill sharks because they have sharp teeth and bite about 5 people a year worldwide and are hence evil? Nope.

Rational argument is good for business, resolving arguments and thrifty shopping. It is isn't so good to apply 'if A, then B' logic to everything. We miss the big picture and can lose sight of bigger consequences of our decisions. The demands of rationality can make us cold and robotic - it may not be worth it.

17. The torture option

The moral dilemma gets tougher. Yes, torture is wrong. But since 9/11, everyone's been up at arms with terrorists. The kneejerk is 'Damn them all. They want to blow us up? We'll screw them once we nab them'. So we're all suddenly cool with being thrust back to the Dark Ages. Not good. TV and media isn't helping either - how many people 'die' violently on your TV each week? Scary eh, especially with the kids watching. The value of life has plummeted a great deal.

Let's try to keep Hadi's predicament simple, or perhaps logically robotic.
1. Brad is the bad guy (one life). He planted the bomb that will kill many people (many innocent lives). If many people die, two to three times more will be adversely affected.
2. Does Brad have a motive? Does Brad have demands? If his demands were met, would he tell Hadi where the bomb was? If yes, good. (If not, we're screwed)
3. If Brad just wants to blow people up or isn't willing to tell Hadi where the bomb is, is it ok to hurt Brad to get the location of the bomb? Will Brad give in? Hadi suspects that it won't work.
4. By torturing Brad's son Wesley (another innocent life), Hadi thinks Brad will give in. Family ties over zealot's motivations.
5. So to save many innocent lives, one innocent life may be sacrificed, and perhaps another incarcerated later. To the government, it's a fair trade. The smaller sacrifice for the greater good. It's harsh, in fact down right cruel, but it'll also be cruel when thousands die from Brad's bomb.

The reasons behind terrorism are many. Most of them stem from the unequal distribution of wealth and fairness, deaf ears and misplaced faith. We all just need to show to concern to the less fortunate, listen the voice of humanity within us and just be compassionate. Else the definition of 'humane' just might need to change.

16. Racing tortoises

The author is right - experience tells us that it's almost impossible that Achilles won't beat the tortoise.

Considering the Achilles fails option, the question that comes to mind is why does Achilles not just keep running past each milestone at a constant speed? To not catch up with the tortoise, he would have to drastically reduce his speed of travel at each start of elapsed distance. It doesn't make sense, especially to students of 'train A leaves at 1030am and train B starts in the opposite direction at 11am' mathematics.

It's underdog cool to imagine the tortoise winning with time and space split into quanta. However our physical world and activities will not be as orderly without a summation of these quanta. Nothing would work. But those paradoxes will kick in and get us all confused again.

Logic is what should guide us. Experience is what tells us what to expect. Sometimes the two don’t meet eye to eye. This is one of those times.

(It's nice to know that the ancient Greeks were thinking really hard way back in 500BC. Makes you wonder why we're so screwed up 2500 years later.)

15. Ordinary Heroism

What did Private Kenny do? Did he do something that was expected of him or was it an extraordinary act?

From the military response, it appears that the army thinks that the act was ordinary. It is a general expectation that 'one for all, all for one' applies in the military unit context but sacrificing one's life for the sake of others is a big step away from marching in tandem and sharing food. (Perhaps that's the army I’m used to). Was there any other soldier that tried to do the same? Would they have contemplated doing the same for the fellow brothers-in-arms? I don't know. Someone told me that Private Kenny shouldn’t be rewarded but punished (shock and horror) because he acted out of instruction. There apparently shouldn’t be any place for free thought or action in the army, not without permission.

But then what kind of act would deserve the Victoria Cross? Would all previous awards be in vain or less worthy?

To a civilian, Private Kenny's act of bravery ranks among the superlative without doubt. One man saving the lives of many in a superogatory act is a one-in-a-million occurrence, something worth immortalizing in film. But then a civilian would likely apply a less demanding set of expectations to the situation. Indeed then Kenny deserves the Victoria Cross!

In a war, circumstances are different and maybe the sense of valour is stronger, even kneejerkish. In a state of reactive panic I am assuming, Private Kenny did the right thing. It may not have been the smartest thing because a life, his life, was lost but we'll not know the circumstances and conditions in place at the time and place of the unfortunate incident. The death of one to save many is noble and heroic by any standards.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

14. Bank error in your favour

Haha, free money! Richard had the best-case scenario happening - a receipt for £100 and bank records that showed a withdrawal of the same amount. Good thing there wasn't a security camera to catch him pocketing the extra £9900.

That sense of small business honesty versus large corporation nonchalance undeniably sits with most of us. Somehow we can mentally put aside our morals and justify our petty theft against a large MNC. We know it's wrong but they won't miss it, will they? Why do we think that way? Do we feel we are victims to their exploits? Big business versus small man. Millions of dollars a day versus small change. Enough to let some morals slip.

If I ran a business, regardless of size, I’d be upset over petty theft. A Malay saying goes 'Sikit sikit lama jadi bukit' which means 'A little each time becomes a lot over time'. This saying is used to educate the young on the merits of saving. It also applies to our context too. The French rail company SCNF estimates it's lost over €200 million in unpaid fares from farejumping over a decade. Now that's a lot! Somehow I believe that there is a finite amount of money. So no matter how it plays out, someone loses.

I suppose it's a test of true honesty and self will. If it's the one that gets you past the pearly gates or not reincarnated as a worm, would that extra cash matter? It all boils down to beliefs.

13. Black, white and red all over

Wow, seeing everything in shades of grey is something we don't normally think about. And dogs do it all the time. Knowing everything about the colour red and not having seen it makes the experience all so bizarre yet it's possible. Poor Mary.

Scientists can strip everything to its basics, explaining bonds, chemicals, reactions, processes and all else about something. The problem is that we don't experience life that way. We know red for the colour it is and not bother that the light reflected into our eyes has a wavelength between 625–740 nm. Beyond the actual colour, seeing red triggers various emotional, psychological and artistic responses too. Science can't really explain that, merely suggest the triggers and outcomes. At the same time, we can relate to Mary's predicament, though not as dramatic, in the way we read travelougues. We can read all about the sights and sounds of Istanbul and imagine, but being there allows to take in everything, from the air to the smells to the feel of the food and walls. It's just different and irreplaceable. (Damn, I need to go to Istanbul!). People feel first then analyse, we can't run away from that.

Mary will be having a hard time once she's able to see colour. Though the world will be alive and exciting, imagine if someone tells her that purple was blue. She might get it wrong forever. Unless of course she tests for wavelengths!

12. Picasso on the beach

Art itself is an expression of one's thoughts and ideas, regardless of whether the artwork is a representation of one's surroundings or a mental picture. Art for the sake of art is a noble pursuit by passionate but usually penniless visionaries. They paint, etch, sculpt and build (as most traditional arts go). Their works are usually recognised long after their deaths, auction gavels ringing in the millions for some fortunate relative/collector. The artist's passion has become immortal.

Throw money into the equation and you get something else. There may be artists or would be artists just faking it for the money, lapping up an ‘appreciative’ but possibly deluded clientele. “Buy it now and it’ll be worth millions later” could be a line you might hear at an art gallery. Not always.

Art is subjective. Like Heidi says “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out” while Coco said “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.” Immortality is in the style. Find your own. Yes, we all want to be remembered in one way or another, in fame or infamy. Painters paint, authors write and the rest of us tag along hoping to be remembered for the way we lived our lives. In our own style.

What is the purpose of art? Looking at it, be it a painting or sculpture, should invoke a response. That is it I think. No response, no art. It could be a case of people not looking and just passing by, and hence not feeling anything. There’s art in all things –from the way lines criss-cross in a aerial view of a city to the way leaves wither to the crow’s feet on my father’s face. Art is everywhere we choose to find it. If Roy was just watching and reveling in Picasso’s work, he might find a glimmer of that feeling in the art he observed. He really didn’t need to think of the money or fame of possessing a Picasso original. Picasso is just another guy with deft hands and a great imagination. But what did Picasso want an observer to feel?

When the waters came and washed away the work of a genius, would it matter to the genius? I doubt. He had done his deed and given himself in that moment. Not to preserve the work forever but revel in its execution. To have an observer revel too.

11. The ship Theseus

My first reaction was 'what's with these rich people? Mad ah?'

Then I put my thinking cap on. So this ship has been rebuilt with many new parts, and all the old bits have gone into making a new ship. Since the crazy rich guy wants the ship with all the deep gory history, then our friendly neighbourhood henchman should be after the ship rebuilt with the old authentic albeit morbid bits. It's the genuine, real deal isn't it?

What's written is true. Imagine that 1979 BMW is up for sale. Sentimentalists might buy the car for the old world charm and style. At the same, some folks wouldn't give a hoot for this 'old piece of junk'. The acquirer's motivation must prevail.

So far, the context surrounds stuff, actual, physical stuff. People on the other hand are a different story. We change. It's inevitable our psyches and mindsets are altered by the way we live and grow up. Some changes are quick like hair colour, others happen over decades like a heart attack from accumulated artery deposits. This also means that the people around us, our family, friends, colleagues, sports buddies will be affected in some way or rather by these changes. But to claim that these changes make us less genuine cannot be true. I am who I am but I do different things and think differently. But it's genuinely me. People might come up and say 'You're not the same person' but yeah I ain't. But it's still me.

10. The veil of ignorance

Interesting predicament - equality vs meritocracy. It's nice that everyone gets their 'fair' share in the grand scheme of things. But then humans are greedy and lazy, naturally. So expect some people not to pull their 'fair' weight when it comes to work. So do these slackers deserve the equal amount of reward as everyone else?

Every society is made up of different kinds of people. We grow up subject to the rules and norms of the world around us. We are moulded into the productive or contributive (or the opposite) members of society. (I know this is simplifying things quite a bit as there are many, many factors that shape our lives but let's take this road before I end up with a thesis.) Wars and political manouvres have been played over the way we contribute to society. Communism came about because the farmers felt that the elite were oppressing them with taxes and secret police. The Soviets and some countries today have social systems that provide benefits to all, regardless of employment of contributive status. The 'dole' in Australia means they

In Singapore, the philosophy of meritocracy prevails. This socio-political ideology was put in place because the powers that be needed to provide equal opportunity to all races that made up the tiny island. Meritocracy meant that those that wanted to be all they could be could be all they could be. But that also means that Singaporeans couldn't afford to fail. After some years, the powers that be were enjoying a great booming economy but at the same time, there was a slice of the population that wasn't doing too good. So the government, keen on improving everyone's lives, does quite a bit to lessen the burden of the less fortunate or low-wage earners. We can't leave them behind. It's not fair distribution to one and all but it helps to even the general playing field.

So what should the Martians do? Here's what I think. Pick a leader by consensus. Get him/her to decide what needs to be done to survive. Delegate tasks and ensure they get done. Split the rewards into an 'everyone' set and 'bonus' set. Decide what over and above performance entails for the bonus rewards. Be fair and honest, distribute the 'everyone' rewards to all. Tell everyone what the 'bonus' rewards are for and get everyone to vote the people who deserved to get extra.

Monday, February 12, 2007

9. Bigger brother

Pierre puts the math together seconds before participants respond in reality - that's not so bad. Yes, it means a computer can piece together circumstances related to time, space, environment and conditions to come up with a result that happens to be the actual decision from the affected person. But seriously, a few seconds before won't make much of a difference. If Pierre was applied to a hostage situation, then maybe we'll see dramatic possibilities from precognition.

Free will is perhaps, as written, the spontaneous decision-making at the moment of choice. Otherwise, isn't it just great planning? Knowing what my colleagues will eat for lunch on a Monday is the result of weeks of hanging around the same people for Monday lunch and seeing patterns in behaviour. That's it. If the order is or isn't expected, it is still free will on the part of my colleague. The choices are more or less the same, and faced with these, my colleague chooses wan tan mee. If it isn't wan tan mee, then the pattern of preference is broken for that week. No biggie.

Is Pierre going to do the same - seek patterns and make judgments? If a participant on the show tends to be passive and inclined to follow the opinion (as a character trait), then we would expect a particular outcome in certain situations, would we not? It may be a set of chemicals in the brain that trigger this response but isn't it rather a kink in the participant's nature through natural (or unnatural, as the case may be) development?

I've no real issue with a computer predicting human responses to situations. We've been doing that in the fields of economics, sociology, politics, psychology and medicine with various degrees of success. We become predictable as humans. We develop to follow order and systems, so it is inevitable that all the cogs, wheels and cycles click and mesh.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

8. Good god

Wow. To some it might seem Plato should have been struck by lightning!

(Some years ago in school, my class discussed religion. Our teacher asked a question that rather disturbed her attentive audience - Did God create man, or did man create God? The basis for the latter was that man needed a supernatural being to explain the unexplainable phenomena around him. It was disturbing to think about rocking the fundamentals of religion. Here we go again.)

Man has the ability to decide what is good or bad, in most simple cases anyway. Do not steal, do not lie, do not hurt etc. Our conscience allows us to weigh the rationality of situations and actions to prescribe them as good or bad. How is our conscience inherently able to make this determination? A god-given ability? Maybe. If we are able to decide good or bad, does it also mean we can go against what we currently know to be good or bad based on God's word? Are we then going against God? Will God be upset or will He be happy that we are able to think for ourselves?

Let's not forget that it is also our upbringing that allows us to define right from wrong. Racist parents will likely have kids that feel the same way.

Different religions present varying versions of higher beings. There merciful gods, sympathetic gods and even vengeful gods. Some gods are presented with flowers, others with animal sacrifice. Given these differences, the message to their followers is likely different too. 'Good' to one person may not be the same as 'good' for another (granted there are also general key similarities in all religions). A good god that makes you do bad things? (Hmmm, i shouldn't be able to put that sentence together.) Then followers wouldn't know the difference. Would witnesses of other religions and atheists be able to identify the 'lack of good'? With caution, yes.

This situation also begs us to ask the questions - Are atheists evildoers? My answer is no. In fact, rational atheists should be able to provide a perspective untainted by religious constraints (if religion can be applied to the situation at hand).

7. No one wins

This is a tough one.

War is bad. It brings out the worst in mankind. Despite the rules of war which both sides should stick to so that atrocities don't take place, we all know that it is easier said than done.

When soldiers far away from home, away from the people they care about, with their lives under threat, are very unlikely to care whether the enemy is treated humanely, regardless if they are innocent civilians. They probably hope that the enemy, civilian or otherwise, was just dead. it's cleaner that way? Less paperwork maybe?

Sacks has to choose between the lesser of 2 evils, both similar in outcome but different in execution (appropriate yet wrong word to use). Sacks is a victim of unfortunate circumstances and a lack of morals among his superiors. Does it nonetheless make Sacks blameless for his actions? No. Does it make Sacks a better person in possibly making his acts less painful for the victim? Yes. Brownie points in heaven, his superiors couldn't care less. Bet he'll go mad from the guilt later (veterans' syndrome). If Sacks objected, he'd be a martyr for morality. Not many would give a hoot, branded a treasonous outcast. It's hard to be the good guy sometimes.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

6. Wheel of fortune

Marge saw things wrongly. But as most people do, she tried to make connections between events. 'First 5 red, then the next spin would end up black. 6 black'. As written, she failed to grasp the mathematical probability of each individual event and accept that each event (spin of the roulette wheel) was independent of each and every other spin.

People make connections to make sense of the stuff they can't control. So if my knees ache, the must be rain coming, and other less than scientific explanations. Connections between and patterns in the occurrence of events allow us to appease the hauntingly apparent illogic of it all. Especially where fortune is concerned.

In Singapore, there's a number lottery that happens 3 times a week . It's called 4D. Some people believe they can predict the winning numbers from the winning numbers that have come before, in the hopes history repeats itself. For example, if 1234 was a winning number on Saturday and 4321 was a winning number on Sunday, many gamblers will make association and devote it to memory or their little notebook. So you can guess what number an 'attentive' gambler may bet on if ever 1234 won again. It's same thing Marge did - spot supposed patterns and make a 'perfectly logical' connections. Some signs make sense, other don't and never will.

Have you heard of the guy whose car engine died each time he went to a particular store to buy vanilla ice cream and only vanilla ice cream? Initially it was the curse of the flavour. But somewhere out there came a plausible, scientific explanation. Go Google it.

5. The pig that wants to be eaten

The pig is strange. If it volunteered to die, then it is going against nature - most living things fight to live. Is the pig too dumb to accept its reality, its existence? Unlikely, especially if it can talk. If it was explained to the pig that it was to be eaten, it must be disappointed to say the least. Accepting that fate and knowing that death would be painless and humane (how ironic), it goes ahead with slaughter - rather big of the pig don't you think? Goes against nature, I say. Those who object to cruelty to animals would be ok with this outcome - it's a happy ending for all, consumer and pig. Nonetheless, vegetarians who want the benefits of meatlessness would still continue to eat vegetables. No change there. I don't think vegetarians are driven to stick to their strict diet because animals suffer. They still kill cockroaches and slap mozzies to death.

What if the pig wanted to change its mind? Will the pig be set free?

If the pig was genetically engineered to accept the end game, to be ok with its murder for human consumption, was the genetic modification or brain rewiring the cruel act instead? Hence the developers of the GM pig hold the ultimate responsibility of not allowing the pig to have a choice. Does the pig deserve freedom of thought or the right to choose? To feed the world, no. To respect animals, no animal should be eaten.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

4. A byte on the side

People generally define infidelity on a moral and ethical level. So the idea of being unfaithful is enough to point fingers at. Yes, no crime may have happened or no contact had taken place but pre-meditation is enough for me. Pre-meditation in murder cases drags the killer deeper in trouble; forethought of an affair in marriage may go 'unpunished' as longs as it is not expressed. If Wifey found out, she might come after Dick with a knife. Too bad. So going ahead with virtual sex would be wrong for Dick.

3. The indian and the ice

Ignorance is often to blame for disbelief. Mankind usually needs to see things happen, experience them before acknowledging the reality of things. If enough people acknowledge this event/thing/occurrence, it is more likely that the nay-sayers will come to believe in the truth. Sort of a herd instinct, faith based on majority opinion or the opinion of the trusted ones. This is also how we study and teach, especially at the primary and secondary school levels, especially for Physics and Chemistry. High school kids won't see molecules or see chemical bonds in organic fuels - they read, study and accept, and pass exams in the trust that that is the truth - the truth built on the basis of sufficient believers. So it isn't Dhara's fault for doubting Mahavir, not yet.

2. Beam me up

Yes, we do perceive our psychological continuity to be more important than any physical continuity. This is evident in our ideas behind ghosts and of mythological punishments (where sorcerers turned men into frogs, toads and other creatures where the victims knew of their transformation) - the psychological form transcended the physical form. Even modern day films use such hyper-physical identity transformations (there was a movie where a man and woman switched bodies, a teenage girl and her mom did the same - titles of which i can't remember, haha). So, it is agreed that a person heart-mind-soul are more important then their bodies. The body is a container to support these things. As long as the death of the heart-mind-soul is deemed more substantial than the death of the body, then there is no murder. No end or loss of memory, no break in continuity of experience, no end of 'life'.

1. The evil demon

The basis of argument and reason has to be our ability to rationalize. If we are able to rationalize our thoughts in whatever realm we are in, whether controlled by an evil demon or not, then these thoughts must be the truth. If we are certain of this evil demon's dominion over us, then we must be able to know that this truth we believe now, in what forms it manifests, may change its state later. This knowledge is now the truth behind the truth, and it is what we must apply when we rationalize our arguments later.

A Book That Snorted Out To Me

Titles that stop you in your tracks. That's what this book did to me. In Singapore, it was marketed with yellow cover, red title copy and an image of a pig. If that doesn't stop a genuine book browser, little else will. Most people would probably pick the book, flip through the pages, and make a decision not to buy it because it's a thinkers' book. Philosophy is a big word that scares many people. The closest philosophical thought many may relate to is "To be or not to be, that is the question", although its roots are hardly philosophical (Shakespeare wasn't it?). "I think, therefore I am" could be next best. Anyway, my point is the book isn't for everyone. In this sunny island, it may not do so well (Sorry Julian Baggini).

I started this blog to put down my own ideas and thoughts for each of the 100 thought experiments found in The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten and 99 Other Thought Experiments. Having read the first 6 chapters, I revisited them and wrote my ideas down on paper on the train ride home.