Sunday, February 17, 2008

Paraeidolia on Steroids

I've been perusing on again, off again the Presocratic Philosophers. Thales, Anaxagoras, Anaximander and the like. I originally wanted to reread the available fragments of a poem by Parmenides. But as I was working my way through The Philosophers of Greece by Robert S. Brumbaugh, I found myself waylaid by Anaximander.



One of the nice things about reading the philosophers prior to Plato, is that all of the extent fragments and testimonials by ancient authors can be thoroughly read in a couple of hours. This means that understanding these fragments can take decades, and even then one is never sure of one's interpretations. Because of their incompleteness, the fragments require guessing at how to make up the missing material.



Brumbaugh's book does not present the texts of the available extent fragments. This is not as big of a problem as it might seem. For many of these ancient philosophers there are only a few words, fragments of a thought, the doctrines of some are only known indirectly. Brumbaugh praises Anaximander for extending "the concept of law from human society to the physical world -- a clean break with the older view of a capricious, anarchic nature;" and for inventing "models to make complex natural phenomena easier to understand." [p.18]



Maybe I've grown overly skeptical in my old age, Brumbaugh presents Anaximander's contribution to human thought without the least suspicion or self-consciousness. As if the imputation of human-created institutions and practices to the natural world outside the polis represented an advancement of human knowledge. Civilization, culture, knowledge, order, and humanity were to be found primarily in the institutions and associations formed with other Greeks of one's tribe and locale. The etymology of "barbarian" illustrates how most Greeks felt about the non-Greek, non-human world.



The use of human-created law as a model for understanding the natural world outside the polis strikes me as nothing less than astonishing. It should be remembered that this move this use of human-created Law as metaphor and regulating principle of the Natural World most commonly has been interpreted as an advance over mythological thinking. And, what typically characterizes "mythological thinking"?



Mythological thinking is the personifying the forces and events of the natural world. Personifying means analogizing natural phenomena to human personalities. When a pagan says the Wind is blowing angrily, he does not mean that the wind is merely blowing with great, destructive force, he means the Wind is angry in the same way that he or any other person can be angry.



This all leads naturally enough to the real question here: is regularity in Nature a product of human understanding or is that regularity there independently of human understanding? Following Brumbaugh's hint that Anaximander discovered the use of models, it would seem that our understanding(s) of the world around us (and by extension ourselves) are only approximations. A model by definition is not a 1-to-1 copy of what is being modeled. The presumption is that some elements of what is be modeled may be safely excluded from the model. The purpose to which the model is put determines which elements are included and which are excluded.



From this, folows the realization that every account of natural phenomena will have a left over residue. Properly speaking it cannot be said that Nature follows some lawful order, nor that Nature is unlawful. Where the human mind is not, Nature is chaotic in the mythological sense of Chaos: lacking order and regularity until the coming of the Gods.



One of the odder thoughts that came to me while I was working this through concerns the existence of the so-called external world. A distinction can be made between the constitution of individual and specific objects in human perception, on the one hand, and the recurrent experience of the unexpectedness of events and phenomena, on the other. To the extent that sense perception is an activity of the brain, the existence of a given object as perceived independent of any perceiver ought to strike one as nonsensical.



What is "Paraeidolia on Steroids"? Mythological thinking, however primitive it may seem, finds/creates order in the Natural World by imputing personality and personal traits to natural phenomena, either singly or in aggregate. The ur-experience of regularity for human beings is found in human social interactions. First comes social interactions, then comes the "discovery" of order. Order, regularity and dependability are all descriptive of social interactions. Consequently, the "discovery" of order in the Natural World is seeing patterns in natural phenomena that can neither be said to be there nor not to be there.That is "Paraeidolia on Steroids".




Friday, February 8, 2008

Are Vegetarians Evil? Or, Are Meat-Eaters? Pt. II

I'll explain my hiatus in my next post.



* * *

The main points to remember from my last post from almost 2 months ago. Morality implies a residue common to all human beings once non-essential elements are set aside. These non-essential elements include pleasures enjoyed by the immoral. The example I used was a morality often generated by vegetarianism: namely, that the pleasure offered by meat-eaters as a rationale for the consumption of the flesh of other creatures is not a "real" and "essential" pleasure.



To this I would like to add an immoral thought. Given that the human brain development is the progressive integration of its disparate elements into a whole, and that fundamentally the brain "works"by the development of neural connections, it would strongly appear that there are no inessential elements to the makeup and functioning of human brains, because changing one part changes the whole. Elimination of those parts of the brain whose functioning results in various pleasurable sensations -- such as consumption of the flesh of other creatures -- would mean changing the personality and person -- and far more likely than not this would be a diminution of emotional responses and investiture in one's surroundings -- i.e., other people, ideals of intellect and ethics, etc.



Consider this as well. Brains develop. As brains mature experiences and knowledge are stored for later use. What does this mean? Brain development encodes and reflects the vicissitudes of the environment in which that brain finds itself. Brain development is one way. Brains cannot be run in reverse.






Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On Being MIA

It sucks. Once I start writing I love it. It's an immensely pleasurable activity. However, I do dearly hate writing when my mind is less than clear. In August, I decided it was time to get a handle on my sleep disorder. "Sleep disorder" sounds so much more serious than insomnia or irregular sleeping patterns.



The one thing that I figured out is that my blood pressure medication interacted poorly with the antidepressants. At one point, I would sleep over 12 hours a day whenever possible. That drove my poor wife to distraction. I stopped the blood pressure medication. I wanted to see if my mood and overall energy level would improve if I stopped. They have. I also had developed a hypothesis that the blood pressure medication was resulting in increased pain in my feet which in turn was interfering with sleeping well.



I don't intend to leave my hypertension uncontrolled. But golly gee whiz, I sure don't want to try to reduce my blood pressure through medication, or at least the ones that I have tried. My dr reassures me that there are a large number of medications to reduce blood pressure. I will have to impress upon him that any medication that has increases the risk of depression, no matter how slight the statistical risk to general population, will in my case almost assuredly result in depression.



Towards the end of monitoring and reducing my blood pressure, I'd like to procure a device to measure blood pressure, and I'd to try drinking a half liter of beet juice every day. Some studies indicate that it has a dramatic effect on high blood pressure. An overall higher libido means burning more calories. More activity. Leading to greater weight loss.



I would like to note that wellbutrin seems to be working. The first thing I noticed was wild & vivid dreams. Crazy dreams like riding cross-country on motorcycles with Tony Soprano. Others that I can't remember clearly like a car-jacking, or one about witches and magic in which the magic only worked if you believed in it. All in all they've been surprisingly enjoyable.




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