2012-09-30

Eureka

Do you ever stop and ask yourself: "have I succeeded in my life?"

Are success and failure predefined paths which we have to follow the signs to reach?

We are in a constant search for a success. We have whole sections in bookstores about self-improvement and reaching success. We have TV shows hailing success stories of various kinds.
But truly what is success? Can we define it beyond the regular stereotypes our societies have defined? Is it for instance landing a job that brings you great wealth? Is it fame? Is it wealth and fame? Is it to achieve a distinguished career path? Is it to find the job you love no matter the other consequences? Is it a certain public office? Is it to find the love of your life? Is it to get married? Is it to have a child, or maybe two, or even twelve? Is it to have your own property and possessions? Is it independence and personal freedom? Is it to travel around the world? Is it to reach the top of Mount Everest? Is to win the World Cup? Is it to find out a secret that has been haunting our life?

Who decides? Rather, whose right is it to decide? Life is a subjective experience. Nevertheless we keep comparing our achievements, measuring the potential of each others based on meaningless criteria. I think that, until we learn that life is all about personal choices, all about the little achievements that matter to the subjective person, that satisfy inner needs and are projected onto the subjective view of the world, that lead to happiness, which is not a measurable or comparable or replicable among different people, we're still failing. Failing in humanity.

Joseph.

2012-09-20

The Beautiful World Of Critical Thinking

Confidimus In Discrimine Cogitandi: this blog's description is the Latin adaptation of "In Critical Thinking We Trust".
To my understanding the world we're living in is a complex combination of harmonious entities, governed by physical and natural laws. We as human species are blessed by the ability to understand the underpinnings of this world (and consequently the Universe). But this same human nature is responsible for fooling us and make us credulous to claims about the world (to the point of gullibility in some cases). And here lays the importance of applying skepticism and critical thinking.

Carl Sagan (credit - BrainPickings.org)
Carl Sagan, a personal hero of mine, is one of the most famous advocates of this approach.

In an article published in the Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 12, Fall 1987 titled "The Burden of Skepticism", Sagan contemplates skepticism, its various aspects and how far should we go with our skepticism and disbelief.

Sagan emphasizes on the role skepticism should play in the human life.
We are Homo sapiens. That's the distinguishing characteristic about us, that sapiens part.
And a duty for our "smart" species is to be skeptical, "if you don't exercise some minimal skepticism, if you have an absolutely untrammeled credulity, there is probably some price you will have to pay later." But unfortunately, "we are skeptical in some areas but [...] not in others." And this has lead us to create multiple odd beliefs (from pseudoscience, to various superstitions, to religions...). By Sagan's account, "a great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society" and hence their survival despite the flagrant conflict with scientifically proven notions.

But with skepticism comes many dangers.
Skepticism challenges established institutions.
Changing conceptions is a hard thing to achieve, and often people take beliefs and biases very personally, they define their existence around them, which makes a very tedious task to convince them of the fallacy of their claim even with obvious logical arguments. Emotional attachments and feelings, although contributing to the beautiful human experience, are the worst judgement deceivers, thus "when we recognize some emotional vulnerability regarding a claim, that is exactly where we have to make the firmest efforts at skeptical scrutiny. That is where we can be had."

But to what extent should we be skeptical? As Sagan beautifully put it:
It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, which ever one it is, you’re in deep trouble. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress. On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.
Some ideas are better than others. The machinery for distinguishing them is an essential tool in dealing with the world and especially in dealing with the future. And it is precisely the mix of these two modes of thought that is central to the success of science.
It's all in taking the right methodology, to reduce the amount of simplistic credulity and gullibility, but not to become extremely doubtful and cynic.

Based on Sagan's work, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and  Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer present The Baloney Detection Kit: A 10-Point Checklist for Science Literacy video:


But one of the major problems facing the popularity of the scientific method and critical thinking and skepticism approaches to the world
is also the fault of the educational system. We do not teach how to think. This is a very serious failure that may even, in a world rigged with 60,000 nuclear weapons, compromise the human future.
In an interesting approach, Australia's TechNYou, has introduced 6 animated videos on arguments and critical methods aimed at school ages 8 to 10, or kids between the ages of 13 and 15, but also designed to resonate with grown-ups, along with interesting educational resources on critical thinking.
Watch the YouTube Playlist by TechNYou for the animated videos.

A critical approach to our modern world is of high importance. Our reasonable (or on the opposite side unreasonable) views to beliefs, values and scientific methods, that we pass on to the human generations to come, are essential in determining our progress (or devolution), and the fate of our species and our world.

Joseph.

2012-09-13

Has Apple Lost Its Shine?

Apple's logo with the advertized slogan "Think different" (credit - Wikipedia)

Admittedly, I'm no huge fan of Apple Inc.'s, but it is an undeniable fact that it is one of the key players in the market of consumer electronic and telecommunication technologies.

The debate of whether Apple's products are really innovative and ground-breaking, hence worth the money, has always been staggering between fans who defend Apple's position and products and their opponents who believe that Apple is a deceptive company with excellent marketing and a business strategy based on registering/purchasing trivial patents in the purpose of making more profit at the expense of technology (to be fair, Apple is not the only one to do it, but in fact the most controversial).

In the event of the release of the latest version of Apple's flagship smartphone, the iPhone 5, BBC's technology news published the opinions of two prominent tech bloggers about the event.

Journalist and blogger Dan Lyons, known for creating the 'Fake Steve' blog, was asked before the event took place. The viewpoint he supported was that "Apple's iPhone launches no longer excite", stating several challenges that face the iPhone and finally drawing the conclusion that
"Somewhere up there, I can hear Steve screaming."
(You may read the whole article at BBC's website: Viewpoint: Apple's iPhone launches no longer excite.)

On the other hand, tech blogger Adam Banks, editor-in-chief of UK's MacUser magazine, asked after the event, holds the viewpoint that "iPhone 5 proves Apple is still innovating - in its own way" defending Apple's strategy in the technology features they present to consumers and replies to Dan Lyons' conclusion that Steve Jobs would be
"screaming at tech pundits to judge products not on some misplaced urge for "wow factor", but on how they feel to use."
(You may read the whole article at BBC's website: Viewpoint: iPhone 5 proves Apple is still innovating - in its own way.)

In conclusion, it's important to stress on the necessity to be critical about the technological choices we adopt. It's well worth it to be informed in this field, in order to correctly assess the products presented to us consumers, and build a reasonable bias towards the technology that best suits us, be it Apple's or not (preferably not Apple's :-P).

Joseph.

2012-09-11

2+2=5


A brilliant short movie (9 minutes) by Iranian-born director Babak Anvari. For more info the website of the movie: http://twoandtwofilm.com/
"In a drab, anonymous grey school governed by a strict authoritarian regime, an apparently unremarkable day is turned on its head following a seemingly ridiculous announcement.
Disbelieving at first, the all male, identically uniformed pupils are informed that what they had always been taught as fact is no longer true. When the incredulous students speak out, what initially seems laughably absurd becomes desperately real as they are forced to question how far they will go to stand up for their beliefs.
Two & Two is an allegory for the absurdness of dictatorship and tyranny - and the resilience of the human spirit."
This Orwellian allegory can be extended to the modern world in many aspects. The obvious situations are the  dictatorial totalitarian regimes oppressing their people. Another case are the religious institutions or religion-driven societies. Another aspect is the tight information censorship which has been a prevailing trend worldwide recently and media propagandism driven by skewed agendas.

070/365 :: War Is Peace

Be free, refuse censorship, refuse dictatorship, revolt.

Joseph.

2012-09-04

The Human Body: A Successful Socialist Machine

Man as an Industrial Palace by Dr. Fritz Kahn - 1927 (credit Quaerentia)
The animal body is one of nature's best achievements, and the human body, as one of the advanced forms of this type of bodies, is one of the best examples of this.

The Machine.

The human body is wonderful. It has been the subject of research and understanding for probably forever.
Many representations and descriptions have been given, but my favorite is the machine-like one, mainly because we're living in an advanced industrial age and machines play a major role in our modern life.
To my understanding, the human body is one of the ultimate machines of nature (this is actually the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary series about the human body being the ultimate machine); complex distributed organs and subsystems, perform several advanced jobs in high efficiency (supporting weights, flexible movements, providing Oxygen, distributing nutrients, filtering food and liquid supplies, waste disposal, anti-viral protection, etc...), the result of many years of adaptation and evolution through natural selection, to allow the individual to perform complex tasks needed for survival.
So, in a context far for the metaphysical meaning and supernatural definitions, the human body is an intricate advanced machine of complex subsystems, with complicated active mechanisms, striving for survival. (The illustration by Dr. Fritz Kahn is an excellent example of the industrial-like mechanical complexity of the human body.)

The Socialist Model.

Analogically to a society, the human body is a striking example of the success of the Socialist model. As indicated, it is a complicated set of very complex subsystems each performing a useful task, not only to their existence, but also to the survival of the whole body. This doesn't stop at this point, but, in fact, through the complex sanguine irrigation subsystem, resources are shared among the various constituent organs, in an equilibrium between the need of the specific organ, depending on its current state of activity, and the fair distribution to all working body parts.
Additionally to these basic survival features, life threatening situations are excellent examples of this blunt behavior.
For instance, in the case of slack (or potentially a failure) in a subsystem, alerts are sent to the brain, and a set of rescue steps are initiated by the massive supercomputer on top of our shoulders, by transmitting the alerts to various other subsystems, in order to reduce their activities, or work more efficiently, or secrete certain helping chemicals to help the failing organ, and the whole body prioritizes the resources towards the more needy subsystem. "Local police" in the sanguine subsystem initiates a "rescue mission" in the vicinity of the trouble. In case of need for external involvement, the brain can initiate the necessary means for that, by either alerting other, supposedly more knowledgeable humans, via a complicated set of idea generation and signal transmission subsystems (talking, facial expressions, body movements, etc...) or by providing the necessary external supply of chemicals via complex mechanisms of thinking, precise movement (interaction of visual, muscular, skeletal subsystems...), the supply of the chemical via the digestive system, the targeting of the organ or any related secreting organ, all while feedback is being constantly sent to the related brain unit.
Many others examples can be given, but the main point is that nature had chosen a Socialist-like approach to successfully and efficiently allow various species (and especially the human one) to survive.

It is about time for our human societies to learn the natural way, our bodies way, and go towards a more Socialist behavior, especially with the crises we are and will be witnessing in the coming years (from over population, to environmental changes, to economical problems, to resources deficits, etc...) It is about time to learn from the working systems of our natural environment to ensure a better and longer survival in the future of our kind.

Joseph.