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Ink-Stained Wretch & The Goddess Aphr-dite

Inkstained Wretch is working.  Suddenly in a shower of light, rose-petals and frolicsome DOLPHINS appears in epiphanic fashion, the Great Goddess Aphr-dite.

She clears a space on his desk of papers and rests upon it her nude goddessy bottom.  It looks really great.

APHRODITE

What ho mortal?  How spendest thou thy brief moment of flickering existence?

INK-STAINED WRETCH

I’m writing a parody of the Dire Straits Song “No Static At All – FM”  It goes “No Haddock at All -Fish Stew

MIGHT GODDESS APHRODITE

Cut that out.  You should be living your life for the one purpose that is worth anything in the brief glittering meaningless yet meaningful mystery you humans call “life.”  I mean love!

INK-STAINED WRETCH

But I’m doing it to get somebody to love me.

MIGHTY GODDESS APHRODITE

‘K   Let’s talk.

CURTAIN

 

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How Dare You Call Me Racist!

A lot of people are getting mad because they are called racist, and they don’t hate people from other races.  They even have friends from other races.  It makes sense that they would be upset — it’s a pretty devastating charge.  I think I can explain though.

We all tend to be selfish.  That is we put our own interests first, and it requires an effort of imagination and ethical effort to care about others as much as we care about ourselves.  For example suppose a bunch of children are given a single pie.  I might take three pieces, because I like pie.  If there are only eight slices of pie and eight children that means two children will do without.  But I’m not doing it because I hate those children.  I’m doing it because I like pie.

Cognitively as well if I want the lead in the school play it’s just cause I like my acting.  It might be that other students are actually better at acting than I am.  But I’m not asking to be the lead because I hate them.  I just like acting and it seems better when I do it.

In both cases — the pie and the acting — to move beyond this initial selfishness and take the needs and rights of others into account requires some work.  I need to actually count how much pie there is.  I need to remember who got pie yesterday.  I need to look at my own acting and that of others objectively, and perhaps suffer from the painful realization I can’t (right now) act as well as I wished I could.

But in neither case — the pie or the acting — does it mean that I’m a jerk, or iredeemably selfish, or am hurting people on purpose.

Racism is just like that.  I don’t experience my racism as hatred for other races.  I experience it as an enjoyment of things my race gets and a regard for my race’s qualities.  And I don’t even need to identify them as such.  As in the pie example — I just go for the pie, I don’t think “Eric Kaplan deserves pie”.  In the race example, I just feel comfortable around people who look like me, and uncomfortable when people who don’t look like me are walking down the street.  I don’t think — white people are the best — or — brown people shouldn’t be free to walk down the street.  I just do what feels right and don’t think as hard as I should about how it causes suffering.

I just feel that, as Steven Miller wrote, Christmas is just part of the soul of America.  I don’t think, maybe Chanukah and Id-al-fitr are also part of the soul of America.  I just respond emotionally that certain things sound good, feel good, are good, and I don’t imaginatively and cognitively stretch myself to see if those good things have bad consequences for other people.  Just as if I cast myself in the school play and eat three pieces of pie I don’t naturally extend myself to think how that plays out for others.

The accusation of racism shouldn’t be viewed as an attack on someone’s moral character, or as a consignment to perdition.  To say someone is acting in a racist way, or speaking in a racist way is just to say they should think harder about the perhaps unintended effects of their actions and speech on people of other races.

Nobody should be self-righteous about it, on either side.  Everybody could stand to be more just and empathetic.  It’s the American way, and it’s also fun.

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A Look Back at the Evolving Noosphere

A lot of people are interested in the evolving noosphere, the idea that the earth is something like a super-organism, the internet is its nervous system, and it is evolving to become more integrated and capable of greater processing power.  No doubt the Earth is such an organism, but whether it is evolving is less clear.  After all the Noosphere is not competing against other noospheres, either for survival or the chance to copulate.

Unless you believe, as I feel more and more that I am impelled to, that the Earth is already home to a variety of different noospheres.  Just as the hardware of a computer can simultaneously run two different operating systems, the hardware of Earth — some billion human brains and a bunch of hardware and wires connecting them — simultaneously runs a number of different noospheres.  Religion, entertainment, science, pornography, commerce are self-sustaining and self-propagating competing noospheres.

There are others, many others, I believe, that have not been named because their interface with language is difficult.  For example there is a particular way of speaking about issues of love and grief that does not come out in how I choose words, it comes out in things I do not say, and also the inflection (including body language) of those things I do.  I’m not alone in this group and have recognized other members of it in the strangest places — for example once on a bus from Phoenix to Los Angeles I had a conversation with the woman sitting next to me who had just gotten out of prison on a non-violent offense and was hoping to stay with her cousin.  It was obvious to me during the conversation that she and I were two neurons of a submerged noosphere — servers on a dark web.  I don’t know her name and we haven’t spoken since then, but who says these things have to be fast?  Her conversation with me changed me and therefore all other connections in my life, and mine hers.  This is just one example of what I am sure are decillions of competing noospheres.

May the best noosphere win!

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Brud and La: Certain Things to Be What They Are Have to Be Messed With

Brud: Good to see you, La.  What brings you to CVS?

La: I am buying dental floss and also reflecting upon the nature of things.

Brud: How goes it with those two activities of yours?

La: As for the first — pretty well.  I have elected to get the store-brand floss to save money and to avoid flavoring, since I prefer the cleanly flossed taste of a healthy mouth, and if I end up tasting my own blood due to untreated gingivitis that will simply spur me to more dilligent flossing in future.

Brud: That sounds like a sound decision.  Does a similar soundness apply to your reflections, or do they cause you more trouble?

La: I am afraid they cause me more trouble, because I am puzzled by the old puzzle, namely: how can I know what the world is like?

Brud: I guess the ordinary means of sensing it and thinking about it seem insufficient to you?

La: They do.  It strikes me that my senses only tell me about the world as it is when I sense it, and my thinking only tells me about the world once it has been mangled by the crushing and slicing of my very partial and biologically determined and passionate thought. What to do?

Cashier: Do you have a CVS card?

La: Yes. (GIVES HER THE NUMBER)

Brud: It occurs to me that your assumption is that the way things are is the way they are before they have been messed with.  Pristine and intact.

La: I so assume.

Brud: And this assumption is far from correct.

La:You astonish me.  How so?

Brud: Your teeth are not as they truly are unless you brush and floss them.  Your teeth only get to be healthy teeth — which is their true and proper estate — if you mess with them, bother them, and interfere with them.  Similarly a human infant left alone to its own devices does not become human.  Rather it swifty maddens, then perishes.  To flourish, it needs to be cuddled and cooed at, fed and fondled, in short — interfered with.

La: A paradox, Brud, is it not?  These things only are what they are when we change them into something different?

Cashier: (HANDING HIM RECEIPT) You have five dollars off your next purchase.

La: Great.

Brud: It is a paradox when you state it like that, but once you apply the flossing and brushing of your care to it you see that it is eminently sensible.  The world without our interference is no world at all.  If we add our vigorous jostling it grows into a world; and if not, not.

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Four Castles, Five Secret Societies, Three Wizards

In Haute Zulu there are four castles: the Castle of the Giraffe, the Castle of the Hippopotamus, the Castle of the Cape Buffalo and the Castle of the Wind.  People meet and trade in the market, but they sleep alongside each other every night in their castle.

People sneak out at night, some of them, to be initiated into secret societies.  These secret societies are the main way that people in the different castles learn to know and trust each other.  Honestly I think I trust people in my secret society in a way I don’t trust people in my castle.  The castle is all about money really and pooling resources, but in the secret society I am able to be who I really am.  I share my soul  The secret societies are named Star, Moon, River Brothers, Ultimate, and Protectors of the Mother.

In my secret society we drink a lot and box each other too.

There are three wizards whose identities are secret because they only reveal themselves when they are wearing masks.  Four different secret societies claim two of the wizards, the wizard in the bison mask and the wizard in the mask of darkness.  Obviously two of the societies are lying.  The third wizard has different masks on different occasions and we believe he does not belong to any secret society.  Probably not more than one out of twelve of us are in secret societies.

Deep down we are all the same, or so say our chiefs.

 

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A New Epicurean Argument Not to Be Troubled by Death

Epicurus offers the following argument that it is irrational to be troubled by death

a)death is non-existence

b)you didn’t exist before you were born

c)you’re not troubled by (b)

d)so you should not be troubled by (a).

Here is another argument which I think works as well.

a)death is non-existence

b)you don’t exist in many different places.  That is you have one body, you are not a person with multiple bodies, there are not numerous clones of you running around.  You exist in a single space rather than multiple spaces.

c)you are not troubled by (b)

d)you should not be troubled by (a).

 

Three questions:

(1)Is it true that my spatial argument and Epicurus’s pre-existence argument live and die together?

(2)Are these two arguments valid?

(3)If they are not valid, which premise is invalid?

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Bet Your Life

If you want to know if you believe something look at the kinds of bets you are willing to take.   If you are wearing an expensive suede suit that will be ruined by rain, and you don’t want it ruined, and you go outside without an umbrella, you believe it will not rain.

If you want to know how much you believe something look at how much you are willing to bet.   If you go out in a cotton suit that will cost ten dollars to clean but you are unwilling to wear the suede suit you think there is a chance it will rain.  If you won’t even go out in the cotton suit, you are much more sure of it.

A rational person changes his beliefs based upon the success of his bets.  So for example if weather.com tells you when it will rain, and following weather.com helps you place successful bets — i.e. you take the umbrella when you need it and not when you don’t and you don’t ruin your suits too often — then you will trust weather.com.  If believing the labels on your suits that say “safe even in rain” turns out to lead to your suits getting ruined, in the future, if you are rational, you will believe the labels less.

Sometimes we make decisions in which we bet our whole lives.  These occur in two contexts, dramatic and undramatic.  A religious Muslim who allows herself to be martyred rather than eat pork is betting that obeying the rules of Islam is more important than her life.  That’s dramatic.  But likewise someone who spends his whole life working at a boring job for a law firm in order to put money in his mutual fund is making an undramatic bet, namely that this is the best way for him to spend his life.

By the nature of things these bets cannot get adjusted in a rational fashion, because we only get one shot.  We can’t try being Muslim once, die, then try being a kaffir once, die, and see how it worked out.

Maybe though Life or the Universe is the one making the bets, using our lives and decisions as the game pieces.  The priest of Hera, Heracleitus, seems to have believed something like that when he said:

αἰὼν παῖς ἐστι παίζων, πεττεύων· παιδὸς ἡ βασιληίη.

In English:

A lifetime is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child.

Did he mean a game with perfect information, like checkers?  Or something played with dice?

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