Thursday, September 30, 2010

what society values

Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics

It's exam day, so we'll be looking at this later (as well as the post-Aristotle questions on quiz #8).

1. Seneca's suicide, at Nero's insistence, is said to have illustrated the importance of stoical  _________ from the absurdities of life.

2. Epicurus had an undeserved reputation as a ________, and Epicureanism is still misunderstood.

3. The Stoics regarded emotions as __________ judgments that create needless suffering and unhappiness, preferring to form only  __________ attachments. (irrational, limited, romantic, friendly)

4. Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus were skeptics who argued that belief of any kind, ________ (including, excluding) belief in reason, is illusory and unjustifiable. This belief, they thought, is a form of ________. (knowledge, therapy, absurdity, contradiction)

5. (T/F) The ancient skeptics considered doubt an unreasonable way of life and a repudiation of wisdom, but insisted that in a chaotic world they had no alternative.

cosmic anniversary

From the Center for Inquiry:

Happy Birthday COSMOS! 

Happy Birthday, COSMOS!

Thirty years ago today, millions of Americans sat down in their living room and watched a revolution in television programming: the first episode of Carl Sagan’s masterpiece, COSMOS.  Written by Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, the 13- part series won an Emmy and a Peabody Award, and was the most watched PBS series in the U.S. for twenty years. 
Since then, COSMOS has gone on to reach almost a billion viewers in over 60 countries, and it’s still the most widely-watched PBS series in the world.
COSMOS Necklace Store LinkBut of course it didn’t just transform television, it transformed us, our understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.  It taught us some physics, some history, some chemistry and biology, and lots of astronomy, but it’s greatest gift was teaching us—us Earthlings sitting at home watching television—how to feel at home in the cosmos.
Using state-of-the-art effects and the tools of both modern science and ancient storytelling, COSMOS eased an entire generation from the abyss of cosmic insignificance to an understanding of our unique significance to each other.
We’ve been reveling in the cosmos ever since, and it’s that wonder and appreciation that we celebrate today, thirty years later.
Join us over the next few months as we take out our COSMOS DVD’s and gather for viewing marathons, astronomy lectures, and star parties.  We've made some beautiful pendants to commemorate the Anniversary, and we might even have an apple-pie baking contest (from scratch, of course!)
Look for events already planned near you and check back with us for updates!

Happy Birthday, Carl! — Carl Sagan Day 2010

COSMOS: Carl Sagan at the VLANext, be sure to wrap up the Anniversary with your very own Carl Sagan Daycelebration, November 9th, Sagan’s birthday.  Last year’s inaugural event in Ft. Lauderdale was a fantastic success, and now groups around the world are planning their own tributes with science fairs, planetarium shows, teacher workshops, and more, all to say “Thanks!” to Sagan, and to bring his gifts to another generation of “star stuff.”
Whether you're an independent skeptics group, an astronomy club or a science department, a researcher, a teacher, or a student, let us know how you're planning to commemorate Carl Sagan Day 2010 and we'll add your event to our Carl Sagan Day event calendar to help spread the word.
Please email your event information

"Billions" Necklace Pendant
COSMOS imagery and logo copyright © 1980 Druyan-Sagan Associates, Inc. formerly known as Carl Sagan Productions, Inc. This material cannot be further circulated without written permission of Druyan-Sagan Associates, Inc.
For more information about CFI or Carl Sagan Day, please visit or

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"my advice to students"

"If you want really to do your best in an examination, fling away the book the day before, say to yourself, "I won't waste another minute on this miserable thing, and I don't care an iota whether I succeed or not." Say this sincerely, and feel it; and go out and play, or go to bed and sleep."  
William James, "The Gospel of Relaxation" (in Talks to Teachers on Psychology; and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals)

And to myself:

"Prepare yourself in the subject so well that it shall be always on tap: then in the class-room trust your spontaneity and fling away all further care."
And: don't feel guilty for watching Ken Burns' "Tenth Inning" again tonight.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aristotle, skeptics & stoics

1. Aristotle's students at the _______ were known as ________.

2. The syllogism is a basic logical ________ form.

3. Aristotle opposed Plato's view that Forms (Ideas, Universals) are transcendent, contending instead that forms are in ________.

4. Aristotle's four basic causes are material, final, ________, and _______. He called the final cause behind everything, the ultimate purpose or ________, the ______ ______. Only the ________ cause is still widely invoked in modern scientific explanations.

5. In ethics we should always search, said Aristotle, for the ______.

6. ________ developed the physics of leverage and hydraulics, and thought "Eureka" moments could provide sudden, intuitive insight. (Hint: he made the highlight reel in the Philosophy Football Cup final.)

7. Pyrrho was a _______, making systematic doubt central in his philosophy. Diogenes was a ______ who did contemptible things in public to show his contempt for public opinion.

8. One of the Romans' great practical achievements, besides architecture, infrastructure, and aqueducts, was _________. (Hint: a popular major at MTSU.)

9. ________, whose actual philosophy was quite different from the modern meaning of the adjective it inspired, said we must conquer fear, ignorance, and superstition in order to experience pleasure and be happy.

10. _______, a _____ philosopher, was ordered by the Emperor _____ (his student) to kill himself. The Emperor __________ said (with a bee analogy) that the interests of individuals are inseparable from those of society.

Monday, September 27, 2010

immediate future

To all who were too polite to point out that I went over time in FoL class today: sorry. I owe you. Maybe you'll get it back after the Wednesday exam. Or on the Long Now Clock, in the long term.(I wouldn't hold my breath.)

Guess I haven't acquired Chris Anderson's inordinate fear of clocks yet. But wasn't that a nice TED Talk he gave about the new crowd-collaborative possibilities of online video communication? Oral traditions aren't dead at all, suddenly.

For those who weren't there: you owe me.

For everybody: the syllabus is more ambitious than I am, right now. Just read Danny Hillis's "A Forebrain for the World Mind" and whatever else from the first 40 pages of This Will Change Everything you'd like, for next time. Then we'll do the exam.
1. Is the past a comfort, a warning, or both? Why?

2. (T/F) Human life extension is one of the "now lengtheners" mentioned by Brand.

3. A positive feedback system rewards "players" for ________ common resources.

4. What's problematic about "fast learners" is that they tend to make changes _________. (too quickly, too slowly)

5. Ecologists have been strangely reluctant to study _______.

6. A new idea as powerful as any in history, said the astronomer Fred Hoyle, was _____________.

7. Esther Dyson says getting older ______ her "age group."

8. Finite games focus on ___________, while infinite games focus on __________. There are how many infinite games, ultimately?

9. How did Jonas Salk define "wisdom"?

10. Bristlecone trunks on Nevada's Mt. Washington go back approximately how many years?

speaking for earth

The cosmos is ancient and vast. Its time is our responsibility. The only "sacred truth": there are no sacred truths. So, why do some people want to put a clock in a mountain? Out of loyalty, and love.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Socrates in love

In a new book about Socrates, Bettany Hughes sees him as a pioneer bridge-builder too, connecting words to deeds, passion to action.
Hughes urges us to keep the Socratic flame alight, ‘above all to remember ta erotica - the “things of love”, the things that drive us to pursue the good’. She paints him as a very relevant reminder today that ‘eudaimonia (a kind of good karma, realising all your potential as a human being) is more important than jewels, baths, designer clothes, warships, dogma’. She endorses his critique of ‘the pursuit of plenty’ and ‘mindless materialism’, arguing that his key challenge is to suggest that it is ‘us’, not ‘them’, who can make things better. She even flirts with casting him as a bit of an anti-imperialist, a bit of a proto-feminist. In her telling, the city takes the criticism and the man is defended. She makes Socrates sound very like Jesus, ceaselessly haranguing the Pharisees. She even has Socrates echoing modern-day concerns about thoughtless consumerism making us miserable. The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life, by Bettany Hughes
So the cliche is right: it's love that generates the passion that makes the world go 'round. Not stuff, not money.

If you like this book you'll probably love Chris Phillips' Socrates in Love.

Friday, September 24, 2010

childhood indoctrination

Very interesting discussion in class yesterday about where to draw the line between parental guidance and childhood indoctrination, when discussing speculative religion with children. Some worried that refraining from specific instruction in "what we believe" would encourage children to embrace a pernicious moral relativism. I'm more trusting of them than that, and more inclined to worry that terrorizing them with primitive superstition, hellfire, and the threat of eternal damnation will scar them for life.

Richard Dawkins has been beating this drum for awhile.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


A good recent account of Plato's myth of the cave, by Simon Blackburn, followed by Bertrand Russell's discussion of Forms/Ideas/Universals:


1. Solomon & Higgins say the sophists turned away from questions about the origins of the world and the nature of reality, towards ________.

2. A pragmatic interpretation of Protagoras's statement that "man is the measure" suggests that knowledge is  __________, and (T/F) limited to "things in themselves." Construed less skeptically, it is a statement of ______, (confidence, doubt, sophistry)

3. The proper business of the philosopher, Socrates thought, was ________________.

4. (T/F) Like his mentor Socrates, Plato had little interest in systematic philosophy or big metaphysical questions about reality.

5. According to Plato's "two-world" cosmology, the everyday world is related to a higher world of ______  or ______ from which it derives, and of which it is an imperfect replica.

6. The Myth of the Cave is an allegory of the relation between Plato's two worlds, as well as a cautionary tale about the fate of ___________.

7. (T/F) Plato agreed with Socrates about who should rule.

8. (T/F) Plato would have agreed with Jefferson: it is the unalienable right of all to pursue personal happiness.

9. (T/F) Socrates and Plato agreed with the pre-Socratics about "soul" being essentially breath, thus needing a body.

10. What is innate, on Plato's (and Socrates'?) view?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors... I say that the Library is unending... 

A blasphemous sect suggested that the searches should cease and that all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an improbable gift of chance, these canonical books... 

I suspect that the human species -- the unique species -- is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret. -Jorge Luis Borges, Library of Babel

1. "Digital information lasts forever, or ________, whichever comes first."

2. Jaron Lanier, inventor of _____________, noted the constant self-obsolescing tendency of fast-moving computer technology with respect to an art video game he created but could not re-create less than two decades later.

3. (T/F) Stewart Brand thinks we should stop digitizing everything, on the assumption that software development will inevitably, permanently outpace our ability to update media storage.

4. We'll know we've achieved a long-term perspective when we begin to mark our calendar years how?

5. Vernor Vinge predicts that the Internet will eventually _________.

6. We're at a perfect point in time to gather the _______ of technology.

7. What's the ultimate reason for initiating something ambitious?

8. Are things getting better? If you think not, what's your attitude towards the future? Does it make sense to you to be optimistic in the long-term but pessimistic in the short-term? (Or vice-versa?) Explain.

9. A recent book is called I Live in the Future. What would you expect Brand to say about it?

10. What does Jaron Lanier mean by "karmic vertigo"? Can it be avoided by avoiding long-term predictions? Is it possible to believe in a future you cannot imagine?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

age of reason

At what age is it appropriate to hold children accountable for their "sins"? When does God start keeping score and marking against your name?

Julia Sweeney found out her family's church's position on the question-- Happy birthday, little girl!-- on her seventh birthday. I'm not sure the church was quite on top of the best available brain science.

the gadfly

1. "Sophistry" has come to mean plausible but fallacious reasoning. It derives from the Greek teachers of argument and rhetoric known as ______, one of whom Socrates was accused of being. But unlike them, he regarded philosophy as a _____________.

2. Protagoras said "man is the measure..." What does this mean?

3. (T/F) Socrates wrote: "the unexamined life is not worth living."

4. (T/F) Like the pre-Socratics, Socrates was deeply interested in identifying the basic stuff of which everything is made.

5. Why did Socrates see himself as a gadfly? What other descriptive metaphor did he apply to himself?

6. (T/F) Socrates agreed with Protagoras: objective truth, independent of any particular or exclusively-human point of view, is impossible.

7. What did Socrates mean when he said "we owe a cock to Aesculapius," the Greek god of healing and medicine?

8. What was the aim of Plato's Academy? What was the purpose of his myth (simile) of the cave?

9. In Plato's theory of education, knowledge is ___________.

10. For Plato the parts of the soul provide a model for his ideal republic, in which reason is exemplified by an elite governing class headed by ____________.

Monday, September 20, 2010

buried time

1. Through its birth, marriage,  & death (etc.) rituals, ________ helps promote long-term thinking; but too vast a timescale, overly focused on eternity, can result in a lack of interest in ______ and ________.

2. (T/F) Kevin Kelly, "devout Christian," says we need a future that will release us from history.

3. Alexander Rose's "pure dream" for the Long Now Foundation's clock/library project describes a "complex" akin to the library of _________, whose "ambition and folly" is to give us all permission to ______________.

4. (T/F) As currently envisioned, the clock will be entirely maintenance-free and self-sustaining.

5. Danny Hillis says our most interesting question is _______________.

6. (T/F) Stewart Brand says the technological Singularity will (or would) forestall the onset of any future Dark Age.

7. The clock is intended (like "Big Ben") to keep time accurately because its creators do not want it to become a _________.

8. A city version of the clock should be at least __ feet tall, a desert (mountain) clock __ feet tall.

9. The deliberate destruction of cultural information (including books) is analogous to what other form of "continuity"?

10. The "dead hand" of excessive continuity results in too much reverential attention to the _____.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mike Eldridge

Very sad to get word this afternoon of the death of friend and colleague Mike Eldridge, of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. I don't recall ever attending a meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, from Oregon to Maine to Maryland to Vermont to Texas to California, without him. I'll never attend another without thinking fondly of him, and noting the unfillable vacancy. He was an insightful Deweyan (Transforming Experience: John Dewey's Cultural Instrumentalism), a great humanitarian, a quick wit, a strong source of moral support... and my favorite good-natured grump.

Good-bye, old friend.
UPDATE. SAAP is pleased to announce the establishment of a Michael Eldridge Memorial Fund.  In accord with the wishes of the family and in the spirit of Mike's work, the fund will be for graduate student travel to SAAP and other relevant conferences related to Mike’s work on Dewey, especially Dewey’s social and political philosophy and his ethics.  Donations to the fund will be matched by SAAP up to a $1000 total limit.  All donations should be directed to the Michael Eldridge Memorial Fund and sent to the SAAP Treasurer, Bill Myers at Birmingham-Southern College, BSC Box 549013, Birmingham, Alabama 35254. Payments may also be made by credit card with the donation button at the SAAP website:

We also call your attention to the fine piece on Mike in the September 20, 2010 Charlotte Observor (


A new book exploring the wider context of his last days says we've not been getting the whole story of why Socrates died (see below*). Maybe people were angry at him for being "offside"? Philosophers Football


Friday, September 17, 2010


On a day when I found myself compelled to visit a famed oak tree, a couple of miles from school ("sprouted in the 1770s, over sixty inches in diameter, considered to be middle-aged")-  wondering about its power to symbolize a longer Now- I also found myself explicating the Taoist conception of death as reconfiguration (not termination) with Freddie the Leaf. Simple, profound. (That story Alexander Rose repeated about the 500-year replacement beam oak tree at New College in Oxford, I'm sorry to report, apparently is an "embroidery"-but still a good story.)
"What's a purpose?" Freddie had asked.
"A reason for being," Daniel had answered. "To make things more pleasant for others is a reason for being. To make shade for old people who come to escape the heat of their homes is a reason for being. To provide a cool place for children to come and play. To fan with our leaves the picnickers who come to eat on checkered tablecloths. These are all the reasons for being."
"Each of us is different. We have had different experiences. We have faced the sun differently. We have cast shade differently. Why should we not have different colors?" Daniel said matter-of-factly. Daniel told Freddie that this wonderful season was called Fall.
"Where will we go when we die?"
"No one knows for sure. That's the great mystery!"
"Will we return in the Spring?"
"We may not, but Life will." 
There are early glitches in this old video, but they're worth "tolerating." 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

pressing philosophy

Thales and the olive presses...

1. The Sanskrit word for "philosophy" means ______.

2. The first "noble truth" of Buddhism is ____________. Buddhists seek enlightenment and a condition called _______, which is achieved after one has freed oneself from the world of ________. Some of them, called ___________, postpone entering Nirvana and remain active in the world. Their "superior priest" is called the ___________.

3. (T/F) The Nyayayikas agreed: the world is an illusion.

4. Confucius and Aristotle both emphasized the importance of individual or personal _______. The key Confuciuan virtue is ____, or humanity.

5. ______'s Art of War  says the precondition of love is security.

6. (T/F) Lao Tzu's _______ philosophy de-emphasized social values in favor of spontaneity and simplicity, eventually leading to a loss of the distinction between self and Tao (the "way" of harmony).

7. In contrast to the Christian concept of soul, Taoists think of it as __________________.

8. Anaximander said the basic "stuff" of the world is _________. (earth, air, fire, water, unbounded); his student _________ disagreed,

9. Pythagoras said the universe is composed not of stuff but of __________. He believed in reincarnation, philosophized with women, inspired ______, and is thought to have been the first to call himself a _________.

10. What __________ (Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno) actually said about rivers was that different waters flow constantly through them.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Clock

Long Now Foundation's Alexander Rose explains, via prototype, the Clock of the Long Now:

[Sunday Morning]

1. The part of himself that he wants to preserve for the future, Danny Hillis say, is the part that _______...

2. If we want to contribute to a tenable future, says Brian Eno, we have to reach what frame of mind with respect to our descendants? What must we extend far forward in time? What must we first do,what must we create, in order to begin to create that frame of mind?

3. Stewart Brand hopes the Clock of the Long Now will do what for time?  (By analogy with what?)

4. The least selfish, most constructive attitude we could adopt would enact what Zen prescription, and in what kind of time?

5. Danny Hillis defines technology as _____...?

6. Vernor Vinge applied the metaphor of a ___________ to human events, according to which a techno-rapture is forecast for the year _____ (give or take a few years). Stewart Brand calls it _________.

7. Louise Boulding proposes defining the present as ________; Brand says we're at civilization's ________ (beginning, middle, end).

8. On the scale of eons, says Freeman Dyson, the unit of survival is the _______ (culture, species, web of life); (T/F) long-term thinkers must, therefore, adapt exclusively to the entire biosphere.

9. ________ is invisible to adolescents, who are obsessed with _______.

10. The Long Now operates at the level of _______, but now must begin to engage the Longer Now of _______.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

glory & shame

1. The first Greek lover of wisdom, interested in disentangling science and knowledge from magic and myth, is widely said to have been ______.

2. __________ asserted the existence of natural law and speculated that humans had evolved from fish, 2,400+ years before Darwin.

3. (T/F) Pythagoras, the first deductive reasoner to derive interesting conclusions from self-evident axioms, defended a theory of cosmic harmony while rejecting superstition and mysticism.

4. Because everything is in a state of flux, said __________, you can't step in the same river twice. By this he meant that _______________...

5. The golden age of classical antiquity was not entirely advanced or progressive. In particular, the treatment of _______, ________, and ___________ in ancient Greece was primitive and unenlightened.

6. __________ "discovered air" and said change was a function of love and strife.

7. Democritus and Leucippus were the first ________.

Monday, September 13, 2010


"The idea that there's something fundamentally wrong with our democracy has become a truism." So, how do we fix it?

future quiz 3

1. Bill Joy dates his unease about the future to the day he met __________ and then read the dystopian vision of ________________.

2. (T/F) Roboticist Hans Moravec predicts that humans will eventually be displaced by machines.

3. "I'm as fond of my body as anyone, but if I can be 200 with a body of silicon, I'll take it," said ____________.

4. Joy's biggest worry is that uncontrolled _________ in robotics, genetics, and nanotechnology may lead to undetectably-gradual changes eventually inhospitable to human life.

5. (T/F) Joy's childhood vision was of benevolent, ethical robots-- guided by something like Asimov's Laws and Roddenberry's Prime Directive-- directing and dominating the human future.

6. (T/F) Joy admits he is something of a Luddite.

7. George Dyson has written that, in "the game of life and evolution," he sides with nature but nature sides with _________.

8. (T/F) Cloning and other forms of genetic re-engineering pose no realistic threat (says Joy) to democracy.

9. The possible proliferation of synthetic plants and bacteria overtaking  natural organisms, the _______ problem, could allegedly "reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days."

10. What's Joy's point about Nietzsche? Thoreau? The Dalai Lama? Woody Allen?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

future reading

NOTE to Future of Life students: in addition to Bill Joy's "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us," the syllabus promised some discussion on Monday of transhumanists and gerontologists including Aubrey de Grey. Stay tuned, we'll get to all that a little later.* 

Meanwhile, we'll stick to Joy on Monday. 

On Wednesday we'll look at some of the founding documents of the Long Now Foundation from Hillis &  Eno, et al, then get started with Brand's Clock of the Long Now.

*But if you're dying right now to think about living forever, check out this funny excerpt from Gary Shteyngart's new novel Super Sad True Love Story:
Today I’ve made a major decision: I am never going to die. Others will die around me. They will be nullified. Nothing of their personality will remain. The light switch will be turned off. Their lives, their entirety, will be marked by glossy marble headstones bearing false summations (“her star shone brightly,” “never to be forgotten,” “he liked jazz”), and then these too will be lost in a coastal flood or get hacked to pieces by some genetically modified future-turkey.
Don’t let them tell you life’s a journey. A journey is when you end up somewhere. When I take the number 6 train to see my social worker, that’s a journey. When I beg the pilot of this rickety United-ContinentalDeltamerican plane currently trembling its way across the Atlantic to turn around and head straight back to Rome and into Eunice Park’s fickle arms, that’s a journey.
But wait. There’s more, isn’t there? There’s our legacy. We don’t die because our progeny lives on! The ritual passing of the DNA, Mama’s corkscrew curls, his granddaddy’s lower lip, ah buh-lieve thuh chil’ren ah our future. I’m quoting here from “The Greatest Love of All,” by 1980s pop diva Whitney Houston, track nine of her eponymous first LP.
Utter nonsense. The children are our future only in the most narrow, transitive sense. They are our future until they too perish. The song’s next line, “Teach them well and let them lead the way,” encourages an adult’s relinquishing of selfhood in favor of future generations. The phrase “I live for my kids,” for example, is tantamount to admitting that one will be dead shortly and that one’s life, for all practical purposes, is already over. “I’m gradually dying for my kids” would be more accurate.
What would John Dewey say? Well, I'll tell you... on Monday.


Some optimists think we live in the best of all possible worlds. Some pessimists fear they may be right. Subjectivists wallow in their interior dramas. The sensible alternative? Meliorism, "a better promise as to this world's outcome"...

Friday, September 10, 2010

free willy

Much talk in class yesterday of free will as an explanation of evil and suffering in the world. Jesus and Mo need to be heard, on this:

And Colin McGinn, too:

And Bart Ehrman. We'll hear from him on our campus in Murfreesboro, TN on Feb. 18, 2011... God willing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

good & evil

 1. "Hindu" means _______________; its central trinity of Gods consists of ______, ______, and ______ (the god of destruction); practitioners seek a state of blissful experience called _____, known to Buddhists as Nirvana.

2. "Brahman" means the ___________ beneath all appearances, supposedly knowable through mysticism, meditation, and ____.

3. It is mainly from Zoroastrianism that we inherit the problem of evil, the question of how needless suffering, pain, and death can exist if ____________________________.

4. (T/F) For the ancient Greeks, the idea of a world created ex nihilo-- from nothing-- was easy to grasp.

5. The Biblical book of Genesis attributes evil in the world to ____________. 

6. (T/F) God's response to Job, in the Biblical account, resolves the problem of evil and accounts adequately for suffering in the world.

7. (T/F) The existence of a powerful, malevolent, satanic demon or "Devil" would be rationally compatible with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect God.

8. What's the worst, saddest, most painful or tragic thing you've ever experienced, or  heard about? Do you believe it may have been "for the best"? Why (not)?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

you are here

TED (Carter Emmart)...Zoom out... Contact...light speed tour...powers of (Doh!)


Breaking down the important dates on our cosmic calendar. We really did just get here, and if we can evolve a bit more and a bit faster-- Dawkins' memes may help, Blackmore's temes I'm not so sure of yet [TED]-- we have a decent chance of being here (and out there) a very long time to come.

Big BangJanuary 1
Origin of Milky Way GalaxyMay 1
Origin of the solar systemSeptember 9
Formation of the EarthSeptember 14
Origin of life on Earth~ September 25
Formation of the oldest rocks known on EarthOctober 2
Date of oldest fossils (bacteria and blue-green algae)October 9
Invention of sex (by microorganisms)~ November 1
Oldest fossil photosynthetic plantsNovember 12
Eukaryotes (first cells with nuclei) flourishNovember 15

Now flip forward to December 31, in cosmic year #1:

First humans~ 10:30 p.m.
Widespread use of stone tools11:00 p.m.
Domestication of fire by Peking man11:46 p.m.
Beginning of most recent glacial period11:56 p.m.
Seafarers settle Australia11:58 p.m.
Extensive cave painting in Europe11:59 p.m.

And now it's time to drop the ball: Happy New Year!

Renaissance in Europe; voyages of discovery from Europe and from Ming Dynasty China; emergence of the experimental method in science11:59:59 p.m.
Widespread development of science and technology; emergence of global culture; acquisition of the means of self-destruction of the human species; first steps in spacecraft planetary exploration and the search of extraterrestrial intelligenceNow: The first second of New Year's Day

Future Quiz #2-

1. The approximate age of the universe is _____ years.

2. The representation of time via a cosmic calendar was introduced in The Dragons of Eden and on the Cosmos television program by _____________.

3. (T/F) Sagan thought it reasonable to expect extraterrestrial help to come and save us from ourselves, at some indeterminate point in the future (as in his "Contact" story), and to think we might migrate to other worlds in the near term if we make Earth uninhabitable.

4. Chabon's "Omega Glory" was inspired by Star Trek, and by _____________.

5.(T/F) Chabon agrees with the letter of the Sex Pistols anthem: there is no future, it does not exist.

6. (T/F) Chabon laments the loss of our ability (or will) to envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too distant date. (Do you?)

7. What did Chabon's little boy think about the prospects of our long-term future? What do you think about  them? How deep is your conception of meaningful time? How much of the future is real to you?

8. How old is our sun? (young, middle aged, senescent...?)

9. Rees calls himself what kind of optimist and pessimist? How about you?

10. What's the best question about the human conception of time and the future I haven't asked you?

McDaniel tribute

Celebration of Life:  A Tribute to John N. McDanielu
Thursday, September 9, 2010
4:30 pm
T. Earl Hinton Hall
Wright Music Building

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

no man's land

Intro Quiz 2-

1. What do you consider subversive or dangerous about philosophy? Is it subversive or dangerous in a good way or bad?

2. Is it really better to do "evil" than to do nothing? What do you mean by evil?

3. Are you a philosopher? What makes you (not) one? What's your definition of wisdom?

4. Karl Jaspers said the 5th century B.C.E. was the apex of the "axial" age. Why?

5. What was distinctive about Greece in the axial age?

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Life's Future in the Cosmos"

Martin Rees is a technological optimist, a political pessimist, and-- citing Darwin's remark that "not one living species will transmit its unaltered likeness" to the future-- an evolutionary realist. Will future life ("life"?) be human, post-human, trans-human, or robotic? Or none of these? And, the more pressing question: will we get out of this century? (TED)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Muslim hippies?

Like I said in class, "Jesus and Mo" are equal-opportunity offenders.

I happen to like Muesli, myself. And some of my best students are Sufi.

Friday, September 3, 2010

not so special

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked scholars and artists what they think will be the "defining idea of the next decade." Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget) responded:
Consider the common practice of students blogging, networking, or tweeting while listening to a speaker. At a recent lecture, I said: "The most important reason to stop multitasking so much isn't to make me feel respected, but to make you exist. If you listen first, and write later, then whatever you write will have had time to filter through your brain, and you'll be in what you say. This is what makes you exist. If you are only a reflector of information, are you really there?" Jaron Lanier: The End of Human Specialness
Consider, indeed.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

doubt quiz

The 'Scales of Doubt' Quiz
Answer "Yes," "No," or "Not Sure" to the following:
1. Do you believe that a particular religious tradition holds accurate knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality and the purpose of human life?
2. Do you believe that some thinking being consciously made the universe?
3. Is there an identifiable force coursing through the universe, holding it together, or uniting all life-forms?
4. Could prayer be in any way effective, that is, do you believe that such a being or force (as posited above) could ever be responsive to your thoughts or words?
5. Do you believe this being or force can think or speak?
6. Do you believe this being has a memory or can make plans?
7. Does this force sometimes take a human form?
8. Do you believe that the thinking part or animating force of a human being continues to exist after the body has died?
9. Do you believe that any part of a human being survives death, elsewhere or here on earth?
10. Do you believe that feelings about things should be admitted as evidence in establishing reality?
11. Do you believe that love and inner feelings of morality suggest that there is a world beyond that of biology, social patterns, and accident — i.e., a realm of higher meaning?
12. Do you believe that the world is not completely knowable by science?
13. If someone were to say "The universe is nothing but an accidental pile of stuff, jostling around with no rhyme nor reason, and all life on earth is but a tiny, utterly inconsequential speck of nothing, in a corner of space, existing in the blink of an eye never to be judged, noticed, or remembered," would you say, "Now that's going a bit far, that's a bit wrongheaded?"
If you answered No to all these questions, you’re a hard-core atheist and of a certain variety: a rational materialist. If you said No to the first seven, but then had a few Yes answers, you’re still an atheist, but you may have what I will call a pious relationship to the universe. If your answers to the first seven questions contained at least two Not Sure answers, you’re an agnostic. If you answered Yes to some of the questions you may still be an atheist or agnostic, though not of the materialist variety. If you answered Yes to nine or more, you are a believer.
From Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht. (Harper, 2003)

intro quiz 1

1. The Passion for Wisdom authors have attempted to capture the "spirit of the times" throughout the history of philosophy, also known as the __________.

2. Philosophical ideas about nature, souls,and death can be traced how far back?

3. The oldest recorded philosophy, called the _____, comes from ______.

4. The Persian prophet Zoroaster, also known as __________, was possibly the first thinker to wrestle with the problem of ______.

5. What two religions are now espoused by a third of the world?

6. On what main points do Confucians and Taoists agree and disagree?

7. What did the Greeks "borrow" from Egypt and Iraq (Babylon)?

8. "Better never to have been born," said ______.

9. Philosophy first began to distinguish itself from religion by searching for _______.

10. What is the etymology of "philosophy"?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

future assignments

Next time in Future of Life:

The cosmic calendar, & ch1 in Pale Blue Dot ("You Are Here");

Michael Chabon, "The Omega Glory";

Martin Rees, "Life's Future in the Cosmos"-- [video]; and

(For Monday 9.13) Bill Joy, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us"

future quiz 1

Launching a new classroom routine: daily quizzes, which we'll pluck from the "Cloud" near the end of each class.  Here's today's:

1. Why do you think philosophy's "center of gravity" shifts, for those to whom the future is a "vital question"?

2. What does James mean by his distinction between "the earth of things" and "the upper ether"?

3. How is a pragmatist's view of the future a philosophic form of protestantism?

4. (T/F) Dennett claims our beliefs about the future are irrelevant.

5. Bellamy's Looking Backward was written in the ____ century but takes place mostly in the ____. (19th, 20th; 20th, 19th; 19th, 18th; 20th, 21st)

That's all for now, answers to be discussed just before the next quiz. Isn't this fun?!

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