Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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The Aesthetic Coup d’État

We as people sometimes find ourselves zoning out and getting caught up in our own thoughts.  Deviating from the opinions some of teachers who may believe that this is due to a lack of focus, I believe this is the epitome of focus instead.

When we are distracted from life we seem to be completely in tune with whatever we are thinking about.  At times what we think about may not be completely relevant, wise, or appropriate, but our ability to ponder them so intensely exists in such a state that nothing else may infiltrate the mind.  If this intense focus isn’t the sole dictator of the aesthetic experience it is the Prime Minister of a majority government.

Over winter break I was coming home from a friend’s Christmas party late at night and after the hours-long chitchat I had endured, the walk home was incredibly silent.  There were dark clouds overhead, Christmas lights around the neighbourhood and no disturbance in the air save the gentle glide of cars on the street behind the houses.  I began to walk by a tree and wonder about it.  I had never had such an intimate moment with a tree in years and remembered back to my childhood and all the memories I had climbing in and playing amongst the trees.  I then began to wonder about that tree in particular and whether it had harboured memories for any of the children in its life.  In that brief moment, I was not of myself.  My own consciousness was the last thing on my mind; all I could think about was the tree.

It is in moments like these that we become separated from our bodies, allowing our minds to wander with such freedom that our sense of self is discarded and forgotten only for that point in time.  This demonstrates to me that humans have a fleeting notion of significance.  We attempt to hang on to the idea that we are important in the universe but when faced with a matter of intrigue the knowledge of one’s own existence is completely absent.  Our mind has wandered far from our body.

The aesthetic experience is precisely this.  It is a coup your mind stages over your thoughts where attention and awe are the stand-in guards.  Sometimes this coup is successful and we become completely detached.  This is a unique experience because it is not something that can ever be achieved through sheer willpower.  In the separation of your thoughts from your sense of self, you become unaware that you are even experiencing the coup.  It is only until after you “shake out of it” that you realise what you were experiencing.

Appreciation for the world is not the only medium for this unworldly experience.  Similar experiences can be achieved through undeniable focus on a task or topic.  If awe-strickenly observing, speaking about or working on something you love has given you such a feeling, you have swam in the warm glistening waters of the aesthetic experience.  Enjoy them well, for the best ones come few and far between.

 

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Who’s to Say? – Aidan C

Think about your brain for a moment.  Your thoughts, ideas, and processes are different from those of any other person on the planet.  Your mind is a complex series of sequences of firing neurons and electrical impulses.  All your senses (and there are more than five of them) provide you with information on what’s happening and your brain decides what to do with that information, but no two brains are exactly alike.  Can we say that all minds are equal?

If you cite Thomas Jefferson, you may say “all men are created equal.”  Without delving too much into what it means to be a person, if we use René Decartes’ claim that “I think therefore I am,” then all it takes to be a person is a working mind since a working mind thinks.  Therefore, if all men are equal, and all men are functioning minds, then all minds are equal as well.  Despite that everybody think in different ways as previously mentioned in class discussions, every (human) brain that is capable of producing thoughts is a person and every person is equal.  However, to what degree do we measure the ability to think?

Certain mentally challenged people are not capable of being able to create thoughts or conclusions in the same way that the majority of people can.  Alternatively, a person with incredible powers of human intellect and knowledge possess a graduated ability to think.  Are we not in a situation where brains are unequal?  How about a person whose brain was once able to think clearly but has since deteriorated to have dementia or Alzheimer’s?  To settle this confusion, it may take a clear definition to separate the mind from the brain.  The brain is a tangible object.  It is a mass of neurons and fatty tissue that sits inside the skull for a sizable majority of a person’s life.  The mind is more or less an abstract idea that is the synergistic amalgamation of a person’s thoughts, reactions and processes.  If we say that all minds are equal but not all brains are equal despite that the functional ability of the mind is proportionally related to that of the brain, then there must be a missing variable.  Let’s refine the question which brings us to the core of our discussion:  are all minds equally valid?

The mind is the pattern of electrical pulses in the neurons in the brain:  it does not exist as an object in our world, but it is our world.  Everything you know is experienced through your sensory information as explained by a theory of knowledge called empiricism.  Charles Sanders Peirce coined the term “phaneron” as what the world is as limited and filtered by only how we can perceive it through our tools at hand, our senses.  There is nothing in this world that can be known without some interaction through our senses to be created in our minds.  If someone’s mind is told that there are other people in the room, even if there aren’t, they have no discernible way of knowing otherwise.  This is where dementia comes in.  If all minds are equally valid, then a person who sees people that “aren’t there” is justified in believing that way.  Or are they?

You may have noticed I’ve asked a lot of questions in this blog post.  The reason why is because my notion of truth, because it is limited by my own individual phaneron, must be validated by the people around me to report that their phaneron has filtered the real world in the same way.  This collusion of illusion is the closest we can get to truth, for even if it is not true at all, it it’s true enough that it works in our everyday lives so well we can continue to fool ourselves in the same way until we die.  It’s not perfect, however; consider two or three demented patients who each see people that are not there.  They may talk to each other or talk to the imaginary people, but the other patient will rationalise his colleagues’ conversations as true.

In the world we live in today, as I have perceived it, society considers those whose minds work differently (seeing things, acting radically, etc) to have unfit brains and therefore invalid minds.  However, a society which is composed of people who see imaginary or think it’s rational to throw goats at trees when they’re giddy with joy or have a fear of toasters, even if that society is composed of three people in a house with one other person, if that other person couldn’t see the imaginary people or had the unprecedented courage to make toast with the toaster instead of over an open flame, he would be cast out by this society of “demented” people, being labelled insane and with an unfit brain.  If the idea of truth can only exist as what the majority of people say is true, then a mind is only valid until it differs from the group unless it can influence the group to change.

If we know that everything we consider real is created and only exists in our mind, and we know this because truth can only be validated through experiencing another’s phaneron through connections, then the implications are that we must consider that the paradigm any two people share are valid.  We should not discredit the ideas of those whose ideas differ by labelling them insane or unfit, because their version of truth is based on a different input of sensory information leading their brain, which is more or less equal to ours.  We should, however, seek to indulge ourselves in the different paradigms around us and challenge and change our views as we see fit in order to attempt to achieve our greatest understanding of a common truth as possible because the phaneron is so different for each person that everyone’s just a little bit insane, but who’s to say?

Aidan C

 

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An Open Letter to Metaphysics – Aidan

Dear metaphysics,

Over the last few weeks I have got to know you well.  We’ve had good times and bad and in between was the lost mind-boggling noise of reality and all its subjective forms.  I’m not quite sure if I’m saying this (it could just be my perception) but I think I’m leaving you.

It’s not you though, it’s me.  I just can’t understand your complexity and what it is we need to do to make our lives the happiest they can possibly be.  You offer me two options at any given moment:  pleasure or suffering.  On one hand, you tell me that suffering is the only way we can afford pleasure; we cannot have goodness without suffering because suffering is what leads me to become a better human being.  On the other hand, you tell me that I should avoid suffering at all costs because it is an evil and that I should pursue a life of pleasure, but not too much because overindulgence is a form of suffering as well.  How is it that these things can live together?  Do you mean to tell me I must live with both these theories, one, or none?

I’ve given this a lot of thought.  I think I know how it should work.  You mean to say that the same thing that gives me suffering should give me pleasure, for the two are fundamentally linked.  This is how it is.  Suffering and pleasure are two different things from the same source, like a symbiotic relationship between a good and evil twin, one cannot survive without the other but both strive to destroy each other.

In spite of this, although I think I’ve figured out how it works, there is no objective way to prove it.  Every conclusion I come to has no measurable evidence so every conclusion is confined to the limitations of my mind, my perception, my experiences.  I will continue living having to experience suffering and experience pleasure but I will not let you continue to play mind games with me.  Our association cannot and no longer stands.

Sincerely,

Aidan

 

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An Epicurean Philosophy – Aidan

File:Epikur.jpg

I would do an epic pun, but that would be too easy.

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who saw the rise and division of the Macedonian Empire, would probably have better fit in today than he did in his time.  He lived in the Aegean archipelago in Samos, Greece from 341 – 270 BC, dying at the age of 72.  He studied and was influenced by other philosophers such as Plato and Democritus.  Some of his work is comparable to a peer philosopher, Zeno, in this comedic short:

His legacy includes many teachings such as that pleasure is the measure of good and pain/suffering is the measure of evil.  It’s worth noting that he never married or had children, suffered from kidney stones and dysentery, and was probably a vegetarian.

Epicurus believed in the existence of atoms.  Imagine in 300 BC the idea of atoms being considered.  The definition was that the universe was made of tiny indivisible particles bouncing around in empty space and therefore every occurrence is a result of these indivisibles interacting with one another.  In addition, Epicurus believed the atoms have an underlying element of chaos which make their paths unpredictable and therefore affirming the idea of free will and opposing determinism.  Compared with modern theories of quantum physics, Epicurus was more clairvoyant than Nostradamus could have ever predicted!

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (i.e. agreeing neither to harm nor be harmed), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.”  -Epicurus

Other legacies of Epicurus include but are not limited to:  pleasure and suffering being the embodiment of good and evil (including gluttonous pleasure as a form of suffering and experiencing some suffering as a means to greater pleasure), a formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity (a.k.a. Golden Rule: see above), and The Epicurean Paradox (see below) since he believes that the gods are not concerned with humans.

 

The Epicurean Paradox:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?

Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?

Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?

Then why call him God?

 

Epicurus’ ideas can be seen in many aspects of society.  For example, his statement on the Ethic of Reciprocity inspired the ideas of John Locke which called for the right to “life, liberty and property” whereas property is also defined as one’s own person.  Those ideas were in turn borrowed by Thomas Jefferson, a self-described Epicurean, for the foundation of The United States of America which advocated “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I was surprised to see that a man who lived in 300 BC would be so involved in the ideas that the world consisted of atoms and that he would challenge the idea of gods so radically.  I was really inspired by his ideas of pleasure vs. pain and suffering and how he wrote in a letter to a friend as he was dying of the kidney stone pain that it was a happy day for him.  Epicurus did not believe in fearing death as being dead was of no concern to a person after having died.

Although there are other aspects of his life I have not touched upon due to the nature of this being a post on metaphysics, I highly recommend to anyone interested in a very Stoic-style of thinking to look up Epicurus and his teachings.  One of my favourite things I read while studying him was the inscription on the gate of his garden that he used to host philosophical teachings and discussions to which women were to be admitted as a rule rather than an exception.  The inscription reads as such:

“Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.”

*Tarry: v. Stay longer than intended; delay leaving a place.

 

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Harper on Drugs

“I also want people to realise what we’re really talking about here when we’re talking about the drug trade.”

In 2010, Prime Minister Steven Harper explains his feelings towards the drug trade and marijuana.  I could tackle many of the things he says here, but let’s consider what he says about legal business.  In the video, he says “I can predict with a lot of confidence that [legal narcotic drug stores] will never be respectable businesses run by respectable people because of … the dependency they create, the damage they create, the social upheaval and catastrophe they create….” so let’s look at what he may be trying to say.

All drugs businesses are selling drugs

Selling drugs is not respectable

/Drug businesses are not respectable

All X are Y

Y are not Z

/X are not Z

 

Although this argument is valid, the problem is that it is not factually correct.  The argument may only work for someone who believes that selling drugs is not respectable which is a subjective statement.  We have not established whether or not the sale of drugs is respectable in an objective manner.

Even so, if assume that it were, what constitutes a drugs includes caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol.  Does this mean that your liquor stores are run by scummy businessmen who wish to create a dependency?  Do you spit on your neighbourhood corner store employees for selling cigarettes from behind the counter to willing adults after giving ID?  Do you wish famine upon your Starbucks barista and her family for selling ‘drugs’?  No, because they are respectable businesses run by intelligent, rational people who just wish to have a job and make some money just like everyone else.

 

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The Power of Prayer – Aidan

A few months ago, Michele Bachmann urged Americans to kneel before God for 9/11 to ask for aid in protecting the country on this day of judgement.

Let’s dissect the logic in her argument:

 

Prayer stops terrorist attacks

Terrorist attacks happen

/The amount of prayer is insufficient to stop terrorist attacks.

 

This form is valid in that it can be applied in different situations and still work.  The problem is that the argument is not factually correct.  We do not know objectively whether prayer has the ability to stop or enable something to happen.  In addition, this argument falls victim to the single-causation fallacy where we assume things happen for a single reason.  Because the premises are not factually correct, the argument is not sound despite it being valid.

I think this argument comes from the politician’s want to appeal to the Christian voter base of America.  In asking the Americans to pray to a god the majority of them believe in for an event that the majority of them agree is bad, frightening or mournful, she would be able to round up support in either her campaign or that of the party she supports.  Being so blunt in asking Americans of different faiths, beliefs and ideologies to support the ideals of a single group in official governmental status is bound to create some backlash and tensions between supporters and non-supporters.  This sort of behaviour could create a society in which the people are so split it enables a non-secular two-party  stalemate to remain the status quo.

 

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WiP? – Kramer, Cats and Keyboards by Aidan Cossey

Note:  This blog post contains two links.  I highly recommend you check them out even if only because I told you.  Enjoy!

Philosophy is the love of wisdom which attempts to explain the unanswerable questions of the world.  Over the course of history, the vast span of these questions has increased but their weight and intrigue have always remained the same.

In defining philosophy, we must define the love of wisdom.  To define the love of wisdom, we must define wisdom.  Wisdom is an aspect of the mind relating to the use and application of information.  As knowledge is the collection of information in an individual, wisdom is the conglomeration of knowledge and virtue to act with appropriate judgement.  Therefore, we can define philosophy as the love of being a good person, perhaps extending that to what it means to be a person.

On that note, what does it mean to be a person anyway?  A living, conscious person is made up of body and mind.  What then if a person’s brain is placed into another body.  Is the person in the body, or the brain?  In addition, what were to happen if a surgeon started removing cells from your body and replaced them with those of someone else one by one?  At what point would you cease to be you and at what point would you become the other person?

A person must also be conscious which means to be self-aware.  In the field of psychology, hemineglect is the phenomenon where a person who has suffered brain damage such as a stroke will ignore one entire side of different object.  Such examples include a person drawing a clock that only goes from 12 to 6 or such as in the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer walks into Jerry’s apartment having only shaved the right side of his face due to a blow in the head.  Consider also what is called phantom limb syndrome in which amputees will report feeling pain or motion in their arms or legs despite their absence.  Are these people conscious of themselves?

You may be conscious of yourself, which is great, but how can you be certain that the people around you are conscious of themselves?  In the same way we can’t understand whether dogs or cats can be introspective, how can you be certain people whose minds you cannot delve aren’t simply providing appropriate output based on the input given like the “minds” of artificially intelligent robots?  How can you be certain that you aren’t the only real person in the world full of “psychological zombies”?  You are a real person, right?  This is real life, right?

Everything that is inside your brain has been created by and depends on the continued existence of your brain.  In other words, there is nothing that is able to exist in your knowledgebase that does not exist inside your brain.  This problem in human capability is called the egocentric predicament.  That which exists inside your brain as interpreted or “filtered” by your sensory information is called your phaneron, separating it from the real world.   Because everything you know of the real world only exists in your phaneron, one could get the idea that everything in the world apart from them:  kittens, water, even friends are just figments of their mind.  This way of thought is called solipsism.  A solipsist would ask, how can you be sure that the universe wasn’t created just a few seconds ago along with you and all of your memories?  Similarly, how can you be sure that this moment you’re living in right now isn’t the flashback of your life you see before your eyes before you die?  The opposite view of solipsism is realism and is considered the more common, healthy, and convenient view.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Martin Gardner, a mathematics puzzle and science writer.  He explains in one of his books,

“If you ask me to tell you anything that about the nature of what lies beyond the phaneron, my answer is ‘how should I know?’  I am not dismayed by ultimate mysteries.  I can no more grasp what is behind such questions as my cat can understand what is behind the clatter I make while I type this paragraph.”

It is philosophy which lets us try to define the who’s and what’s of the world no more than the why’s and how’s.  It allows us to give ourselves a model on which to set our beliefs:  a system of beliefs for systems of beliefs.  Moreover, philosophy is the voice that asks whether is it right to believe the beliefs you believe philosophy allows you to believe.

Aidan C

 
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