Friday, January 31, 2014

Baruch Spinoza on Free Will and Determinism

 "We are only free in respect to objects which we moderately desire, because our desire for such can easily be controlled by the thought of something else frequently remembered, but that we are by no means free in respect to what we seek with violent emotion, for our desire cannot then be allayed with the remembrance of anything else.

However, unless such persons had proved by experience that we do many things which we afterwards repent of, and again that we often, when assailed by contrary emotions, see the better and follow the worse, there would be nothing to prevent their believing that we are free in all things.

Thus an infant believes that of its own free will it desires milk, an angry child believes that it freely desires to run away; further, a drunken man believes that he utters from the free decision of his mind words which, when he is sober, he would willingly have withheld: thus, too, a delirious man, a garrulous woman, a child, and others of like complexion, believe that they speak from the free decision of their mind, when they are in reality unable to restrain their impulse to talk...

Experience teaches us no less clearly than reason, that men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined; and, further, it is plain that the dictates of the mind are but another name for the appetites, and therefore vary according to the varying state of the body. Everyone shapes his actions according to his emotion, those who are assailed by conflicting emotions know not what they wish; those who are not attacked by any emotion are readily swayed this way or that. All these considerations clearly show that a mental decision and a bodily appetite, or determined state, are simultaneous, or rather are one and the same thing, which we call decision, when it is regarded under and explained through the attribute of thought, and a conditioned state, when it is regarded under the attribute of extension, and deduced from the laws of motion and rest…

Now I should like to know whether there be in the mind two sorts of decisions, one sort illusive, and the other sort free? If our folly does not carry us so far as this, we must necessarily admit, that the decision of the mind, which is believed to be free, is not distinguishable from the imagination or memory, and is nothing more than the affirmation, which an idea, by virtue of being an idea, necessarily involves.… Wherefore these decisions of the mind arise in the mind by the same necessity, as the ideas of things actually existing. Therefore those who believe, that they speak or keep silence or act in any way from the free decision of their mind, do but dream with their eyes open.

"Human Beings are Determined" by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Natural Selection's Brain Building


Three Scoops Of Ice Cream
A lizard brain is about survival — it controls heart rate and breathing, and processes information from the eyes and ears and mouth.
When mammals like mice came along, the lizard brain didn't go away. It simply became the brain stem, which is perched on top of the spine, Linden says.
Then evolution slapped more brain on top of the brain stem.
"It's like adding scoops to an ice cream cone," Linden says. "So if you imagine the lizard brain as a single-scoop ice cream cone, the way you make a mouse brain out of a lizard brain isn't to throw the cone and the first scoop away and start over and make a banana split — rather, it's to put a second scoop on top of the first scoop."
That second scoop gave mammals more memory and a wider range of emotions. It also allows a mouse to do things a lizard can't, like using experiences to anticipate danger instead of just responding to it.
To create the brain found in apes, Sherwood says, evolution added a third scoop. It allows apes to reason and live much more complicated lives than mice.
"In these brains, you can find all of the very same parts that you would see in a human brain," Sherwood says. But there's a difference — the brain of an adult human is about three times the size of a gorilla brain.
 The human brain continues to grow rapidly for the first five years after birth. It takes 20 years before all the circuits are l
In one sense, we've had to pay a heavy cost for our big, inefficient brains: Childbirth is difficult, childhood is long, and our brains consume 20 percent of the calories we eat.
But Linden says these adaptations turn out to have some surprising payoffs, like romantic love.
"If our neurons weren't such lousy processors and we didn't need 100 billion of them massively interconnected in order to make a clever brain out of such lousy parts, then we wouldn't have such a long childhood," Linden says.
And without that long childhood, he says, evolution wouldn't have equipped us with the force that bonds parents together to protect their children.aid out and connected up, Linden says.


Thomas Jefferson's letter to his Nephew

Thomas Jefferson's letter to his nephew, from Paris, August 10, 1787:

Dear Peter, — I have received your two letters of December 30 and April 18, and am very happy to find by them, as well as by letters from Mr. Wythe, that you have been so fortunate as to attract his notice & good will; I am sure you will find this to have been one of the most fortunate events of your life, as I have ever been sensible it was of mine. I enclose you a sketch of the sciences to which I would wish you to apply, in such order as Mr. Wythe shall advise; I mention, also, the books in them worth your reading, which submit to his correction. Many of these are among your father's books, which you should have brought to you. As I do not recollect those of them not in his library, you must write to me for them, making out a catalogue of such as you think you shall have occasion for, in 18 months from the date of your letter, & consulting Mr. Wythe on the subject. To this sketch, I will add a few particular observations.

1. Italian. I fear the learning of this language will confound your French and Spanish. Being all of them degenerated dialects of the Latin, they are apt to mix in conversation. I have never seen a person speaking the three languages, who did not mix them. It is a delightful language, but late events having rendered the Spanish more useful, lay it aside to prosecute that.

2. Spanish. Bestow great attention on this, and endeavor to acquire an accurate knowledge of it. Our future connections with Spain and Spanish America, will render that language a valuable acquisition. The ancient history of that part of America, too, is written in that language. I send you a dictionary.

3. Moral Philosophy. I think it lost time to attend lectures on this branch. He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if he had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science. For one man of science, there are thousands who are not. What would have become of them? Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong, merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his nature, as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality, and not the to kalon [beautiful], truth, &c., as fanciful writers have imagined. The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted, indeed, in some degree, to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules. In this branch, therefore, read good books, because they will encourage, as well as direct your feelings. The writings of Sterne, particularly, form the best course of morality that ever was written. Besides these, read the books mentioned in the enclosed paper; and, above all things, lose no occasion of exercising your dispositions to be grateful, to be generous, to be charitable, to be humane, to be true, just, firm, orderly, courageous, &c. Consider every act of this kind, as an exercise which will strengthen your moral faculties & increase your worth.

4. Religion. Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, and the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand, shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile, or death in fureâ. See this law in the Digest Lib. 48. tit. 19. §. 28. 3. & Lipsius Lib 2. de cruce. cap. 2. These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. They will assist you in your inquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all.

Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision. I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us, to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration, as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, and not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost. There are some, however, still extant, collected by Fabricius, which I will endeavor to get & send you.

5. Travelling. This makes men wiser, but less happy. When men of sober age travel, they gather knowledge, which they may apply usefully for their country; but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret; their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects; & they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home. Young men, who travel, are exposed to all these inconveniences in a higher degree, to others still more serious, and do not acquire that wisdom for which a previous foundation is requisite, by repeated and just observations at home. The glare of pomp and pleasure is analogous to the motion of the blood; it absorbs all their affection and attention, they are torn from it as from the only good in this world, and return to their home as to a place of exile & condemnation. Their eyes are forever turned back to the object they have lost, & its recollection poisons the residue of their lives. Their first & most delicate passions are hackneyed on unworthy objects here, & they carry home the dregs, insufficient to make themselves or anybody else happy. Add to this, that a habit of idleness, an inability to apply themselves to business is acquired, & renders them useless to themselves & their country. These observations are founded in experience. There is no place where your pursuit of knowledge will be so little obstructed by foreign objects, as in your own country, nor any, wherein the virtues of the heart will be less exposed to be weakened. Be good, be learned, & be industrious, & you will not want the aid of travelling, to render you precious to your country, dear to your friends, happy within yourself. I repeat my advice, to take a great deal of exercise, & on foot. Health is the first requisite after morality. Write to me often, & be assured of the interest I take in your success, as well as the warmth of those sentiments of attachment with which I am, dear Peter, your affectionate friend.

P.S. Let me know your age in your next letter. Your cousins here are well & desire to be remembered to you.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to his nephew Peter Carr, from Paris, August 10, 1787; Merrill D. Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: Writings, New York: Library of America, 1994, pp. 900-906

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Art of Humankind

Art resides in the space between the tension of humankinds desperate ambitious reach combined with humankinds crushing limitations.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thus in my ear does nature's message run

Bullets burn and Sex feels good. I could attribute that to the metaphysical explanations of gods, demons, and sin or I could listen to nature's message and realize that the human body evolved and adapted to survive, reproduce, and die like other organisms on Planet Earth.

"Man crawls and dies: all is but born to die:
The world ’s the empire of destructiveness.
This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;
This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve
Was made for pain, the minister of death:
Thus in my ear does nature’s message run."

"Really I am not much impressed with the people who say: "Look at me: I am such a splendid
product that there must have been design in the universe." I am not very much impressed by the splendor of those people. Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is merely a flash in the pan; it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions and temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending -- something dead, cold, and lifeless".
Bertrand Russell

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Forgotten Dreams of Natural History

What Dreams Have Been?

It was Horace who wrote "Brave men were living before Agamemnon."

It reminds one that there were countless unknown brave and wise persons in history that we have never heard of and who existed many years before our known historical figures. Before the global rise of our Abrahamic religions there were pagans wrestling and thinking on levels that would not be matched until several centuries later. Brave and wise human beings were living and thinking with vigor and insight well before our current religions dominated. The great Democritus, Diogenes the Cynic, Socrates, Epicurus, and Heraclitus were lighting flames in the mind of mortals prone to dark superstition. And even before them the Eastern force of human thought was burning in places like China and Mesopotamia. With the Chauvet Cave,  brave and thoughtful humans were even living well before our known civilizations.

National Geographic: The interior of France’s Chauvet Cave, decorated by humans some 32,000 years ago with lifelike images of the animals with whom they shared the landscape. It reveals the oldest known figurative paintings in the world.

Science and Imagination

"It’s easy feel small and powerless when faced with this vast reality. Indeed, we humans have had this experience before, over and over again discovering that what we thought was everything was merely a small part of a larger structure: our planet, our solar system, our Galaxy, our universe and perhaps a hierarchy of parallel universes, nested like Russian dolls. However, I find this empowering as well, because we've repeatedly underestimated not only the size of our cosmos, but also the power of our human mind to understand it. Our cave-dwelling ancestors had just as big brains as we have, and since they didn't spend their evenings watching TV, I'm sure they asked questions like “What's all that stuff up there in the sky?” and “Where does it all come from?”. They'd been told beautiful myths and stories, but little did they realize that they had it in them to actually figure out the answers to these questions for themselves. And that the secret lay not in learning to fly into space to examine the celestial objects, but in letting their human minds fly. When our human imagination first got off the ground and started deciphering the mysteries of space, it was done with mental power rather than rocket power."
Max Tegmark, M.I.T. professor department of Physics
"Science is imagination in a straitjacket."
Richard Feynman

Friday, January 10, 2014

What information you download and how you store it

The same information will impact individual brains in various ways. The same fact or piece of information will be downloaded in the human mind and filed into different folders so to speak depending on the person.
One person may put it under the file depressing or the other inspiring. One may put it in the folder absurd and another person put it in the folder wise. One person will take a fact and put into the folder reasons for faith and that same type of information in another persons brain will be put in the folder reasons for doubt.
One brain will take a piece of infomation and delete right away and send it to the recycle bin and the other will take that piece of information and put into a folder they use everyday.
That is the nature of human brains they grow out of the specific soil of the particular human beings experience, environment, and physiology.
What you download (the type of information coming in) is important but so is what you dowload that information to (your present consciousness and pattern of thought).
Here is how a Christian Minister is downloading the information coming in from Astronomy versus how it is being downloaded by the Astrophysicist Neil degrasse Tyson.

Christian Minister: “God is huge! He is ginormous! He is greater than every thought we have ever had of Him.”

Neil degrasse Tyson: "What are the lessons to be learned from this journey of the mind [through the
universe]? That humans are emotionally fragile, perennially gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignificantly small speck in the cosmos.
The more I learn about the universe, the less convinced I am that there's any sort of benevolent force that has anything to do with it, at all.” 

Sherlock Holmes quote

"That's one explanation with some of the facts."

The Sherlock Holmes character from the BBC series Sherlock

Critical Thinking Panel discussion with Jeremy Beahan, Julia Ga...

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Assassin Bug

 Nadia Drake:  Assassin bugs (Acanthaspis sp.) decorate themselves with the corpses of their consumed prey. There are several reasons for this behavior, none of which really measure up to the totality of this monstrosity. First, the corpses form a protective "meat shield." Second, the corpses provide olfactory camouflage -- they mask the assassin bug's scent. Third...and most vile...they allow the assassin bug to infiltrate ant colonies while posing as one of the ants' own. Photo: Nicky Bay

Friday, January 3, 2014

Renaissance Florentine Fortitude - A Steel Smile

Notes from An Unlikely Prince by Niccolo Capponi (The Life and Times of Niccolo Machiavelli):

“Life without honor is living like the dead”, wrote Piero di Giovanni Capponi to his patron Lorenzo de’ Medici.

 A Florentine proverb goes, “It is better to smell of shit, than of sucker.” (E’ meglio puzzar di merda che di bischero)

“One does not govern states by saying the rosary.” – Cosimo de’ Medici

mixture of gravitas and flippancy

Florentine saying: “No heaven for suckers” (Pe i bischeri non ce paradiso)

The Florentines describe wisdom in hindsight as “acting like the Brozzi astrologer, who recognized thorns by touch and shit by its smell.”

Excommunication had become a blunt weapon but the famous condottiere Niccolo Piccinino once compared it to being tickled.

 virtù, wisdom, honor, pragmatism         

Old Florentine saying “Heaven in their eyes, and Hell in their mouths.”

Cesare Borgia told Machiavelli behind closed doors (in a chamber dimly illuminated by torches) that for his actions, he scoffed that God and men would forgive him, although he did not care if God did so, while men always forgave winners.

The night Pier Soderini died, at the mouth of Hell he showed his face: ‘Go to the baby’s Limbo’, Pluto cried ‘Fools down here are out of place’ – Niccolo Machiavelli

“One should not be surprised if in these crazy times the crazy give a good account of themselves.” NM

Robertto Ridolfi on Machiavelli:  "with his flaunted vices and hidden virtues, with his bold and jesting manner, with an intelligence that at first encounter shocked the mediocre and made him appear to them presumptuous or eccentric, he had qualities which made him unpopular with the majority and greatley loved by those few, who knew him well and appreciated his courtesy, his humor and his talent."

Machiavelli placed "honore et utile" above ideology.

“I have taught princes how to be tyrants, but also their subjects how to get rid of them.” -NM

"Fortuna is like one of our destructive rivers which, when it is angry, turns the plains into lakes, throws down the trees and buildings, takes earth from one spot, puts it in another; everyone flees before the flood; everyone yields to its fury and nowhere can repel it ...Fortuna shows her power where virtù and wisdom do not prepare to resist her."

"With Fortuna it is better to be swift than cautious."

For Machiavelli the best way to handle Fortuna was to be prepared and ready for her blows and then respond with swift aggression. To be surprised by the blows or to hesitate in your response would be to your detriment.