Metacognition

I sat in on a friend’s epistemology class a few days ago. Sitting there, being DREADFULLY quiet, reminded me of a few things. Foremost, it reminded me how much I desire a sort-of laymen’s philosophy, or a philosophy lite (it’s less filling, but it still tastes great). I’m not saying that what’s needed is something that should be dumbed down (strange that so many people seem to believe that if you attempt to simplify things that you automatically dumb it down. This is not so), but we need something that is accessible. Something that is something that people want to learn. And sitting there in that classroom reminded me of why there are so many people out there who badmouth academia in general and philosophy in particular. It wasn’t fun! I’ve heard all throughout my academic “career” that learning isn’t always supposed to be fun. That sometimes things had to be slogged through and endured. But why? Why should somethng that is, at it’s core, supposed to be about the whole of humankind so repellent to nearly everyone who encounters it? Is that the way that is’t really supposed to be? I was listening to Bill Nye (the science guy) talking to George Norry explaining how teachers should teach science to kids (screw kids, they should be teaching this way to adults!). He said learning about science should be fun. That’s what makes people want to learn more. People want to remember what they learned from an enjoyable experience and tend to want to forget what happened during crappy events. I heard a biologist say that, despite the fact that the human brain has receptors for pain and none for pleasure, sexual intercourse feels good because it’s supposed to be done. You’ll be more likely to keep doing it (and thus, keep procreating) if what you’re doing feels more pleasurable as opposed to having the sensation that you’ve been jabbed through the eye with a hot poker… repeatedly. The human race would not have come (no pun intended) far if every time one had sex, you did something unpleasant like vomiting uncontrolably. Well, philosophy ain’t sex, but there’s really no justification (to use a philosophy word, here) as to why learning all this philosophy stuff has to feel like the hot poker instead of poking the hot chick. I heard a fellow student lament that we were spending so much time plowing away at theories that we weren’t doing much philosophizing. He said we were spending too much time reading and not enough time talking (but then, he did say that he’s a postmodernist). The professional philosophers are too wrapped up in being purists about what they do to see that what they’re doing is supposed to be … well, like life. and so far as I’ve been able to see, life ain’t pure. it’s kind of messy and hopelessly prone to inconsistency. But that’s exactly my point. I sat in a really quiet classroom that day, and quite frankly, I worried that no one in that classroom would remember anything that they had heard the professor say that morning once the class had ended. When I talked to my friend after her class, I told her that one problem with philosophy is that there is so much heavy lifting involved with learning anything (most people have neither the time nor the inclination to dredge through learning the intricacies of Kant’s Transendental Idealism or Rusellian definite descriptions), that people get turned off to the whole project. They shouldn’t. I told her that, and I wholeheartedly believe this, nearly any philosophic theory can be distilled to a core set of ideas that can be expressed in five sentences or less. I said that I am an existentialist, but that existentialism can be reduced (another philosophic term) to a handful of core ideas. As long as you get those, you qualify. All that other stuff — the heavy lifting — is good to know, but not absolutely necessary for solving life’s little dilemmas or figuring out which space to park at Target. I think that, if someone said that if you never learned how to read, and you were a Christian, all you really need to know are the Ten Commandments and “The Golden Rule”, and if you obey those two main guidelines you’d be a fairly successful Christian, that no one would object. It’s good to read Jude, but not totally necessary if you want to live according to the life of Christ. The same goes for philosophy. Quite frankly, I think that sometimes reading it is what causes the problem. Besides, Sartre is beyond boring. Like living as a Christian, the emphasis of philosophy should be as living life as a philosopher. Living, at least the last time I checked, has to do with occasionally having some fun. The essence of life is not only to learn as much as you can but to enjoy the moments that you have. We have a limited time here (in this life or this incarnation or whatever), and should be room for us to not only read what others have to say about what all this is and means, but to occasionally try it out for ourselves. You might not get it exactly right, but at least we know how it works in the real world. The object here isn’t just to think and think about what we are thinking (about), but to do. Speaking of do… I had debated for a long time whether I should eventually get around to admitting to myself why I started all this philosophy business in the first place. My question was never regarding whether I was going to admit it (since I already have to several people), but whether putting it in a blog would scoot my semi-serious philosophical explorations from legit to Go Ask Alice. I think that the last thing that anyone would or should masquerade as philosophy is a bunch of diary entries — though I suspect this is exactly what Rene Descartes did in his Meditations. I tend to think that, in the realm of philosophy, that ethics is really the only philosophy that matters. That’s because no matter how much we may argue for a particular epistemic or ontological postition or view, we’ll never know if what we say or believe is “truth” or not. With ethics, we can pick a theory, put it into practice, and get results. We can see where utlitarianism goes awry, we can see the benefits of egoism, or determine that Kant’s ethics are the best set ot moral principles after all. We can do ethics. So much of ethics, and I think that this is true, even for the utilitarian, deals with motivation. We don’t only ask what we should do, but also why we should or shuld not engage in a particular act. Asking ourselves these questions usually helps most of us to act in a reasonably morally correct manner. Unfortunately, some of us ask ourselves this question — in particular the why part– a little late. Like, three quarters before we graduate with a degree in philosophy kind of late. Sitting in my friend’s epistemology class reminded me that, had I properly evaluated my intentions, I should have not pursued a philosophy degree. So, what’s my reason? Why did I decide to take up philosophy? The short answer is: cute guy. If there is anything that would make philosophy unfun (besides reading Kant), it’s taking up a major for the sole purpose of staring at the professor. It’s typical, it’s lame, and it never comes of anything… but that’s my reason. I’m not embarassed about many things (things I should be embarassed about), but that’s definitely one of them. Now, if you’re sharp, you’ve already connected why I mentioned that epistemology class. Have Fun!

God Is the Ultimate OCD

I don’t think that Richard Dawkins spends this much time thinking about things that don’t exist. I think that someone would say that all my thoughts on God means that, deep in my heart, I’m not really a non-believer. One might say that what I’m doing is being petulant, and simply refusing to obey my Heavenly Father in the way that a child throws a temper tantrum whenever he doesn’t get his way. I am something of a prodigal son, who has left his father’s farm only to return when his money runs out. The reason why I keep coming back with questions about God, one may say, is because I, despite my claims, have not completely released myself from Him. Ok. They can say whatever. But lately, something has been bugging me. When I was church-goin’ I was a determinist. I believed that whatever I was going to do was not only known by God, but also determined by him. When I gave up the Bible thing, I simply shifted my determinism from hard divine determinism, to a more softer biological determinism (which makes absolutely no sense at all beacuse I also claim to be an existentialist). I took a couple of philosophy of religion classes, and still I couldn’t shake my belief that if God exists, then our lives are determined. The point upon which my belief hinged (and still does) is the question of God’s omnicience. That is, what does God see, and more importantly, does seeing it mean he caused it to happen? I tend to believe that what God sees happens (by necessity). I know that there are plenty of people who disagree. They argue that God’s seeing things does not mean that they necessarily happen, or that what God sees are possibilities, of which your choices are a part. So, even though God saw that you would be stabbed through the heart at precisely 9 am this morning, he also saw a world where you did not, and one where you were eaten by a shark instead of stabbed, etc. This seems kind of counterintuitive, as they say, to me. How can God not see exactly what will happen — HE’S GOD?!?! My question, it seems, is this: at what point does God’s all-seeing begin? Does it stretch back to the moment of creation? Is it that as soon as God said, “let there be light”, he saw all that was to come? If so, and even if there are an infinite number of possible worlds, did God see all that would happen in any possible world instantaneously (when he created everything)? That would mean that, no matter what possible world God sees, he would see what I did (or, since he presumably saw this when he created the world, saw what I was going to do)? I mean, if God sees what I will do, and he is infalliable, then how wasn’t his seeing somehow predictive? Unless, he only sees what I will do as I am doing it, and that doesn’t quite jive with that whole Book Of Revelation thing ( That is, God sees how the world is going to end, but everything up till then is totally blank?!? That sounds so wrong that I don’t even want to believe in any God that this is what’s really going on). I think for some, they see God’s all-seeing like we see a TV show. The plot slowly unravels in installments. God has a general idea, based on everything he’s seen so far on how things are going to turn out, but some plot points remain a little vague. God knows that I will definitely put on clothes today, but he didn’t exactly know that I would put on the dark blue Levis and black Pantera t-shirt. But this still sounds odd to me. (Especially since I totally strawmanned this point of view!). If God knows what we’re going to do like I “know” what’s going to happen on CSI:Miami next season (things will get blown up, Horatio will say something, slip on or slip off his shades and then exit to the right), then that puts God’s omnicience on par with educated guesses or worse, inductive reasoning. But Those hold the possibility that we may conjure up the occasional wrong answer — and God can’t be wrong. So, I ask again, if God sees what I will do in any possible world, at what point did he see me do it? If he saw my acts at any point in the past ( this is kind of funny, since I’m now placing a non-temporal being within my temporal “time”), then God must have seen what I was going to do, and since he is also all-powerful, I am subject to his will. So it seems that I’ve got it double. I am not only subject to God’s foresight, I am also completely unable to do anything but what he has already ordained that I shall do. Now, I realize that there’s a “massively irregular universe” objection coming if I say that we are subject to God’s will, and that I have no other choice than to obey. But one raises that objection against physical intervention from our heavenly creator. If every time I or anyone was in a dangerous situation, God did something to stop the bad from happening, that would create the miu problem. But God tends to be more subtle. He suggests, he gives visions, and visitatons from angels… we aren’t so much thrown into submission as gently glided into doing exactly what God says. No matter how I try to worm free will into it, I keep coming up on the problem that it seems to me that no matter what, God has already set everything up. I don’t see any way that the Puritans (at least on this point) weren’t right. I know that this, that is, the idea that our lives may be predetermined isn’t popular. It tends to give a person the uneasy feeling that no matter what they do, everything we do doesn’t count for anything. Whether we go to Calcutta to succor the poor, or run off to El Salvador to join a death squad, the outcome is beyond our control. Nothing we can do can influence our standing with God. That’s pretty depressing, especially if we see that we are destined to burn in hell, and that there is nothing that we can do about it. Oh well. I guess, when all is said and done, only time will tell. Which is all we can say about pretty much any other matter of philosophy. FIN

Everything I Needed To Know, I Sure As Hell Didn’t Learn It In School

You ever look back on what you thought you knew when you were younger, and feel totally embassesed about all the stuff that you thought you knew but really didn’t know? I was thinking, a few days ago, about which of my high school classes I felt that I had actually learned anything that I consider of any lasting value. I think that, of all of the classes I took, my English classes were the ones that I did any actual learning in. That totally sucks, beacuse it’s now that I realize how much all that math was actually going to be used in the “real” world. I so suck at math. I decided to revisit some of my high school reading, since I still have some of the books that I was assigned to read way back then. I had King Lear in my hand when I happened upon my copy of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphoses. I read it when I was in the 12th grade. I guess that reading something like Kafka was suppsoed to be something that the “smart” kids were supposed to do, since it was one of those “thinkin’ people’s” books. It had philosophical subtext. I’ve read The Metamorphoses since leaving high school, but until I held it in my hand at that point, I hadn’t realized how dumb I was when I read it. Let me explain: For those who are unfamiliar with the basic plot of the story, there’s this guy, Gregor Samsa (one of the coolest character names in literary history), who wakes up one morning to find himself turned into a giant cockroach. His family is horrified by what he has become, and he spends the rest of the novel closed up in his bedroom. There’s som hijinks with some lodgers, Gregor gets pelted with apples, and eventually he dies. The story ends with his family going out on a picnic, and a strange description of Gregor’s nubile teenaged sister stretching her body out in the sun (that part always made me a little fearful for any sisters that Kafka might have had. It’s creepy). Anyway, when we read the book in class, our English teacher asked the class if we thought that Gregor Samsa had literally turned into a bug? After all, the text clearly says that when Gregor awoke form unsettling dreams, he found that he had been turned into a giant beetle. Being that we were, for the most part, all of 17 to 18 years old, and that most, if not all of us were totally unaware of what Existentialism was, much less had read any, most of us said yes, we believed that Gregor Samsa had indeed inexplicably turned from man to insect. I don’t want to boast, because I was and remain an incredibly stupid person, but I disagreed. It seemed kind of fishy to me that he would change from a human to a bug, and that his family didn’t react the way that one might expect that one would act if a family member had been suddenly replaced by a roach. What’s funny is that my teacher seemed more willing to entertain the opinions of those who believed that Gregor Samsa had shapeshifted and became vermin (oh, wait, vermin is rodents). When I took logic, I had a hard time trying to figure out why I had to learn this stuff, other than to keep a professor employed. (If someone had told me that was the reason, I would have probably done better in the class… nah!) The same thing happened again when I took philosophy of language ( that time, I actually registered my protest with the professor, which is not a very smart thing to do). But, when I think about the use of philosophy, it rings loud and clear when I think about reading The Metamorphosis — it’s useful to save yourself from embarassment! I can’t possibly imagine the absolute embarassment when one of my former, fellow students, standing at a cocktail party, says when asked about the meaning of Kafka’s masterpiece, “It was really gross when he turned into a bug!” I can imagine the looks of their learned companions, reeling back in disgust at the fact that someone missed the point of the book entirely. What we had missed, in that 12th grade English class, was the underlying philosophical context of the story. Well, it wasn’t that it was missed, so much as it wasn’t taught. We didn’t get the Existentialist point of view that Kafka was using to tell us what was going on in Gregor Samsa’s mind. If we had had that bit of useful information, we would have never wasted valuable class time trying to figure out if Gregor Samsa had actually turned into a bug! By engaging in a meaningless distraction, we missed the point of the book. We read it, but we didn’t understand it. Which is how I pretty much feel whenever I open up a logic text. But at least I know that Gregor Samsa didn’t turn into a bug!

A Few Words About Marriage

For the record, I will say at this point that I am not married, nor do I envision myself ever getting married. There are those who say and think that only those who have experienced a particular thing or are engaged in a certain act (like, marriage, for instance) are qualified to speak on the matter. I say that this is not so. You don’t have to be a parent to speak about children, you don’t have to fight a war to speak out about whether a war is right or wrong, and you don’t have to be married to have an opinion about marriage. With that said, on to the topic. I was listening, a few nights ago, to some dude on the radio rambling on about those people out there who are “opponents of traditional marriage”. You see, just recently, the fine state of California upheld Proposition 8, which prohibits same -sex marriages. So this guy was ranting on about all of those people who are, in their attempt to extend constitutional rights to their fellow citizens, on the warpath to end mariage as we know it. This view is, of course, absurd. The funny thing is, is that the core of his objection wasn’t that gays and lesbians want to have everyone immediately sodomized (in the worst way) everyday and night as a part of their right to marry. No. What he said was that homosexuals want to redefine marriage. Redefine. I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I was under the impression that the business of definitions isn’t a legal issue — or at least not one to be decided by the courts. What’s worse, is that the redefinition of marriage isn’t even a philosophical issue — it’s semantic. And semantic arguments don’t belong in courts. I thought about what this guy was saying — what he really meant when he said “traditional” marriage. What this guy meant was that “traditional” marriage is a legally binding, God-sanctioned union between two consenting heterosexual adults who are not presently married to any other person. I guess this is what most everyone else thinks, too. I’ll be damned, if I wasn’t, deep inside, an Orwellian at heart. I tend to, from time to time, have a problem with what people think that they mean, and what they’re really saying. Now, I may be digging up a pile of grade-A dog shit to win my argument, but, I say that there are some people who don’t define “traditional” marriage in exactly those terms. So what do I mean? Well, not too long ago, we (as a society) kind of redefined marriage already. In the not too distant past, a “traditional” marriage meant that a young woman (and by woman, I mean a barely-started- her- period girl) was married off to a (usually) older man. “Traditional” meant that a woman was literally owned by a series of men during the course of her entire life, starting from her father who sometimes literally sold her to her husband. Marriages, until the age of romantic love, was primarily an arranged affair, the young woman not having any part of the arrangement. She, unfortunately, stayed un-blissfully aware of what was to happen until she was expected to perform her marital duties on her wedding night. And for plenty of places on this planet, this is how marriage goes — NOW. And, we can’t ignore the fact that many women were married by some dude from another tribe or village simply showing up and kidnapping her. That’s the traditional way they do it. We laughed at her when she said it, but Miss California was absolutely right. When we say we support “traditional” marriage, what we really mean is that we support “opposite marriage” — one man, one woman — no polygamy, no polyandry, no open marriages, no common-law, nada. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to be Christians, either. When I stopped thinking that the guy on the radio was nothing but a backward, uninformed bigot, I realized that the semantic argument is a red herring. What we’re arguing about is what we consider deviant. Until quite recently, homosexuality was a certifiable mental disease. States all across the Union prohibited unnatural sex acts between even consenting persons of the same gender. But now, being gay, although still not socially acceptable to all, isn’t illegal. Some of us who aren’t same-sex oriented have realized that our here and queer bros and sisters can’t be made to go away or be straight for our sakes. Some of us are “used to it”. Which, if you think about it, means quite a great deal. I mean, if you think that, if black slaves were officially freed by the 13th Amendment in 1866, and given citizenship by the 14th Amendment, it took a full century before Loving v. Virginia struck down the nation’s last laws prohibiting interracial marriage. I’d say that gays and lesbians have leapfrogged over the “competition”. In this way, the argument over same-sex marriage is very much like the boo-hoo-hoo over abortion. There are people who so despise the fact that there are some doctors who remove fetuses from women’s uteruses, that they are willing to kill those who do. The issue has to do with an objection to deviant behavior. This is why some people object to giving girls the vaccine to prevent catching genital warts, or distributing condoms to high schoolers, or against teaching Sex Ed altogether. All of these things, it’s feared, will lead to sexual deviancy. And deviant people commit crimes. The same goes for those who don’t support gay marriage. I don’t know how many people remember Rick Santorum’s ‘don’t let the gays get married’ speech– where he claimed that allowing gays and lesbians to marry would lead to bestiality and child molestation (I’m guessing that increased rates of masturbation and blindness would be on his list of dreadful consequences as well). Abortion, premarital sex and gayness became problems when sex became recreational and not exclusively procreational. How so? When people died at 40, they were pretty much in a hurry to get married. When you were looking at dying from the local plague or being wiped out by the invading armies of wherever, you probably wanted to get your rocks off as soon as possible. And since you probably didn’t know how to read (and thus know that the church was feeding everyone a bunch of BS), you were in mortal fear of dying a sinner and burning in an eternal hell. Luckily, science prevailed and we realized that sex, although sometimes nasty, isn’t the gateway to all behavior and things criminal. In the past, people were just too busy being parents or dying from TB, or smallpox, or childbirth to explore the G-spot or contemplate which of their girlfriend’s hot roomates would be totally excellent for a threesome. Now, we’ve got condoms, and the pill, and abortion (for those who love the culture of death) that make it so one doesn’t have to have children if one does not wish to have them. Being unmarried at 20 doesn’t condemn a person to Eleanor Rigby-esque spinsterhood. There is not stigma attatched to being unmarried or even being a little slutty from time to time. You can engage in all kinds of unnatural sodomy and say it was “college”, or better yet, tell everyone that you’re emo. Now that people can wait to get married (esp. women) people have alot of hang time, and that’s time enough to do all sorts of things (and people) that we shouldn’t be doing. More importantly, having that hang time allows us to figuire out who we are actually sexually attracted to. Two hundred years ago, a 15 year old girl might have had to marry a man before she even realized that she wasn’t attracted to men at all ( it wasn’t just that her husband was so old, it was because he had a penis). Unfortunately, abstinence works — if you get married at 13. It totally falls apart if you wait till you’re 37. My point in all of this is that when we say that we’re for or against gay marriage, we need to be clear on what we’re saying when we do. Are we merely fighting over definitions or are we expressing our fear that so-called sexual deviants will lead society morally astray? If this is the case, we can’t make that judgment without proper evidence for our claim. With the exception of a handful of states, gay marriage is still prohibited. We won’t know the effects unless we trot it out and see what happens. Not too long ago, people feared that mixing the races would ruin society. I see plenty of people who are or have been in interracial relationships around, and plenty of little halves and quarters –and so far, things seem to be going ok ( hell, the market is up today). Whatever.