Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Here are my top questions

There are some questions I ponder other than St.Ambroise pale ale or Boreale rousse; Arctic Monkeys or George Thorogood; hill run or long, slow day.

What is the relationship of Experience, Knowledge, Art and Subjectivity?
This informs my interest in Phenomenology. The experience of seeing something as something else- in my specific case seeing an old electrical support as the sculpture of a deer- pins one of my areas of interest about the connection of art and experience. In answer to a lesser question of a teacher as to how Yoga can be classified with Philosophy in a college Humanities department, I've been pondering the phenomenology of running. Many of my previous posts about meaning, creativity, Schopenhauer and so on are related to this general theme.

What will the the world economy look like after human populations stabilise at about 9 billion people sometime in the middle of the 21st Century?
Just curious about what's next on the program. To wit, is China the next phase of modernity? Or will liberal capitalism survive? What are the characteristics of a modern society? Does liberal democracy go hand in hand with capitalism or will state-centered oligarchies and a new round of empire building define political-economic relations for the foreseeable future? An answer to this not attributed to biblical prophecy or Norman Podhoretz would be welcome.

Perhaps one heretical question that has occurred to me is; Should economics be reduced to subfield of social-psychology? After all, beauty and share value seem to be in the eye of the beholder.

I had a maths question, but it was solved - it was similar the the Bridges of Koenigsberg problem.
This one had stumped me since I was 8 years old. This issue, how to draw a square with an "x" in the middle without lifting pen from paper and without doubling back over a line only occurred to me as a mathematical problem about 6 years ago.

I have a few stories about; the economics of vampyric slavery, the devil's role in freedom of choice, a lonely wolf and the village he defends, and bio-warfare terrorists. But the questions I ask there are less rigorous.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

creativity versus originality

At the risk of drawing a false dichotomy, I wonder if we can draw a useful distinction between creativity and originality. For example, Einstein came up with three major ideas-the theory of special relativity, the theory behind photo-voltaic cells, and a theory supporting Brownian motion. Which ideas originated with him, and which ideas did he develop?

If a thinker or artist comes up with one good new idea, could we term that thinker original, but not necessarily creative? On the other hand, one who has new interpretations of another's work
could be termed creative without being particularly original. For example, consider the roles of the composer and the conductor in serious western music.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Take a hike

Some days I wish everybody would go for a long walk and get the hell off my doorstep. Don't you have someone else to ask questions to? Don't phone me- read my bloody blog if you really care about my opinion.

Talk to the hand...I'm going on a beer run.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fear, Boredom and Plastic ware

A friend of mine sincerely believes that microwave ovens release unnamed poisons from tupperware(plastic kitchenware). There are many who believe that vaccination is far deadlier than the diseases prevented by it.

What boring lives these people lead, that they must find bogeymen to occupy themselves with. What atavistic urge inspires them to think they can control things with pseudo-scientific appeals to magical nostrums?

Heart disease, cancer, traffic accidents and pneumonia are the only significant threats to life, and only traffic accidents are likely to effect people under the age of 50, at least in Canada and similar industrialised nations. Most people living in those countries will die at an advanced age, hopefully surround by loved ones, possibly at home or in some institutional setting. On the other hand, depression and stress related illness are the most common forms of disease in the developed world. Suicide actually has become a relatively significant cause of death.

The pointless hand wringing of those ninnies afraid of magical maladies and media menaces does nothing to help the sense of unease that seems to effect so many people.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for foolishness, and the fears it engenders.

Friday, October 19, 2007

As goes China, so goes modernity?

What are the characteristics of modernity that we can draw by comparing the US with the People's Republic of China?In the article Big Red Checkbook by John Feffer published in The Nation the November 5, 2007 issue,he discusses various author's views as expressed in their books about contemporary China.

In China Road, his absorbing chronicle of traveling Route 312 from Shanghai across the expanse of China to the farthest reaches of the Gobi Desert, National Public Radio correspondent Rob Gifford meets a Tibetan who makes his living teaching Chinese to his compatriots. Gifford carefully broaches the subject of betrayal.

"No one blames me," the Tibetan tells him. "There is no other choice. The only way to say I'm not going to take part in this is not to learn Chinese and reject the whole Chinese system. But that would condemn me to poverty." He won't give up his Buddhism, and he will never marry a Han Chinese woman. But otherwise he has decided to trade in the nomadic life, which he says is nothing to romanticize, for the life of an upwardly mobile Chinese citizen. "That is simply today's world. The modern world. The globalized world. I'm not sure we can completely blame the Chinese for that."

Foreign policy analysts speak of various crunches that China will face. There's the demographic one, when China suddenly becomes a senior citizen society virtually overnight because of its one-child policy. There is the economic one, when rapid growth begins to sputter and an angry middle class joins hands with the disenfranchised to close down the party. There's the environmental one, when the poisons of industrial development choke the country to death.

How these conditions might appear varies somewhat between the US and the PRC, but it is disturbingly easy to show parallels between the two. Does Modernity lead to a techno-feudalism or are there other possibilities?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Music, intangible value and the economics of meaning

In a previous post I argued that the diminution of production costs associated with recording and distribution would reduce the music distribution industry but not the calibre or breadth music production. My opinions seem to be supported by the unfolding events as described in the Time article "Behind the Battle for Madonna"

Records, it seems, have merely become advertising for live performers- and promoters are the new economic power.

"At a time when lagging CD sales and music piracy have made the album a mere accessory to touring, merchandising and licensing, it's no wonder that ailing record labels like Warner Music Group have been exploring ways to get a piece of that much more lucrative side of the business. So just imagine how they must feel now that Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter, is close to stealing away pop music icon Madonna for a cool $120 million in cash and stock."

On a more theoretical level, at what point does a product( a record, film, book, t shirt) or a service (live performance, theatre) transcend it's role as itself and become advertising? I'd argue that from the time it leaves the sole awareness of its originator that it starts with it functions as advertising.

Advertising----> Social capital-----> hidden capital of education, law, social relations
The Secrets of Intangible Wealth- Reason Online
Two years ago the World Bank's environmental economics department set out to assess the relative contributions of various kinds of capital to economic development. Its study, "Where is the Wealth of Nations?: Measuring Capital for the 21st Century," began by defining natural capital as the sum of nonrenewable resources (including oil, natural gas, coal and mineral resources), cropland, pasture land, forested areas and protected areas. Produced, or built, capital is what many of us think of when we think of capital: the sum of machinery, equipment, and structures (including infrastructure) and urban land.

But once the value of all these are added up, the economists found something big was still missing: the vast majority of world's wealth! If one simply adds up the current value of a country's natural resources and produced, or built, capital, there's no way that can account for that country's level of income.

The rest is the result of "intangible" factors—such as the trust among people in a society, an efficient judicial system, clear property rights and effective government. All this intangible capital also boosts the productivity of labor and results in higher total wealth. In fact, the World Bank finds, "Human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries."

Once one takes into account all of the world's natural resources and produced capital, 80% of the wealth of rich countries and 60% of the wealth of poor countries is of this intangible type. The bottom line: "Rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their populations and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activity."

This idea of intangible wealth explains why file sharing and not copyright advances the economy- and why outmoded relationships rather than technology must fade away at the hands of a free market.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

sticks and stones...

"When it comes to free speech, we need to let a hundred flowers bloom. We need to chill. We need to stop being pussies."

This is the conclusion of Kurt Andersen, writing in the New Yorker. I can't add much to his challenging and sardonic article- this relates to my post of sometime ago that concluded we need the Freedom to be offended.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Recognizing the immense costs of mortality for a meaning machine.

Trying to define "personess"- sometimes called philosophical anthropology- has occupied philosophers since Plato defined man as a featherless biped and Diogenes of Sinope held up a plucked chicken as a response.

I'm going to say we are meaning machines. This term was coined by Prof. Deb Roy of MIT and is used by artificial intelligence researchers to refer to computers that think.
In my case I'm trying to respect modern empirical science as regards human biology, while addressing our experience of, well, experience and how we interpret that experience.We are, from a biologist's point of view, organic machines. Yet we seem unable to go through life as if our choices were pre-programmed. We(I can't speak for chickens, featherless or otherwise) create meaning- we assign value to phenomena.We manufacture meaning and this seems safer to ascribe to a biological rather than metaphysical origin. My approach is that we are biological computers that create meaning. This has implications for both epistemology and ethics.

Meaning has both a linguistic sense such as when calling a dog, a dog, I'm attaching meaning to a generally four legged mammal. But meaning has its ethical dimension, as when a dog is a bad movie or a poorly engineered car. I wonder how much there is a difference between meaning as to identify and meaning as to evaluate. We experience both as we go through life, but unlike in critical, philosophical thinking we don't necessarily separate the objects of meaning strictly into is and ought as we create meaning for the phenomena we encounter.

How I greet my small son is different from how another greets him. A brief review of recent history reveals how the the beloved child of one person could be a toy to another and considered an evil affront to another. In each case a very specific identification and evaluation are attached to this child.

Often these values we create conflict both within us and amongst us. After all the Choice vs Abortion debate is keenly felt by people on both sides, and yet there are others who feel it isn't worth arguing about. On another issue I prefer to lead a simpler life with modest material assets- but I still feel envy for those who own a convertible, especially the late model T-birds with the retro paint jobs. Still, my conflict finds me saying 2 feet good, 4 wheels bad.

Moreover, the reasons why a person attaches a particular meaning can vary. Those reasons can even evince a 180degree shift in position.

Now, if life is finite then how does that inform the meaning that one brings to life? So how do we build an ethical system that reflects the creative nature of human values? How do we deal with a need to create meaning that doesn't dismiss that need as an epiphenomena of biological processes nor ascribe meaning as a metaphysical entity separate and ineffable from our biological nature?

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster