Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

Perceptions of beauty

June 4, 2013

Science is Beauty

Science is Beauty

Perceptions of Beauty from  Philosophy of Beauty (Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Maryland)

Symmetry and asymmetry


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Labrets in tribal societies: are they considered beautiful? If not, why wear them?

“for your own good” is the most arrogant phrase there is

July 10, 2011

The height of arrogance is when I am told by someone else that I should do something or not do something “for your own good”.

Be it a doctor or a lawyer or an environmental campaigner or a civil servant or a politician or a government,  the phrase raises my hackles.

It presumes too much.

It does not convince.

It is dictatorial.

It imposes one person’s values on someone else.

It is a denial of the subject’s most deep-seated and fundamental value of deciding what constitutes “good”.

I am inclined to think that the most fundamental human characteristic is that

any – and every – human can determine what is “good”

The needs of others and surrounding society and definitions of basic human rights can circumscribe this but cannot – by diktat – take away this fundamental value which is I think integral to being an individual. By corollary any entity which cannot decide what is good and then distinguish between “good” and “bad” does not then qualify for the label “human individual”.

This leads me to paraphrase Descartes’

“cogito ergo sum” (I thinktherefore I am)  

to be instead:

I decide what is “good” and can distinguish that which is “bad”.

Therefore I am.

Why Forecasts need to be wrong

October 7, 2010


The Lorenz attractor is an example of a non-li...

Image via Wikipedia


This started yesterday as a short comment on the changing forecasts by Hathaway on solar activity in Solar Cycle 24 but has now become something else.

As clarification, I  distinguish here between prophecies and forecasts  where:

  • I take prophecies to be a promise about the future  based primarily on faith and made by prophets , witchdoctors, soothsayers and politicians such as “You will be doomed to eternal damnation if you don’t do as I say”,
  • I take “forecasts” to be an estimate of future conditions based on known data with the use of calculations, logic, judgement, some intuition and even some faith. They are extrapolations of historical conditions to anticipate – and thereby plan for -future conditions.


Behaviour, law and ethics: A practical view

September 3, 2010
Le Penseur, Musée Rodin, Paris

Image via Wikipedia

Whether in scientific endeavour, the business world or in politics we see daily scandals where behaviour is considered lacking in integrity or in ethics. In recent days we have had the Hausergate scandal, the Commonwealth Games corruption scandals, the money-down-the-drain in Iraq scandals and the HP procurement scandal.

For clarity in my own mind I reason as follows:

My values lead to my behaviour.

Values are comparative standards or norms and they calibrate and motivate my behaviour but in themselves they have no inherent goodness or badness. My values are my behavioural standards. They allow me to make comparisons (faster, better, pleasing, irritating, bearable, acceptable, good, just, right ….).

Behaviour may be lawful or unlawful or ethical or unethical.

Laws are what the society I operate in, or wish to operate in, uses to define what is unacceptable behaviour. But lawful behaviour does not address whether it is ethical or unethical (though that may be implied). Where law is silent, behaviour is, by default, lawful but may still be either ethical or unethical.

My ethics tell me what behaviour is correct and desirable behaviour. This may or may not be consistent with the ethics of the society surrounding me which specifies what that society considers the right and proper and desirable behaviour. Ethical values and ethical behaviour thus represents a sub-set of all the values I may have and all the consequent behaviour they might lead to. Ethical behaviour is not necessarily lawful. Unlike the limits set by law, behaviour does not become ethical by default if ethics are silent. Behaviour which is not unethical is not therefore necessarily ethical.

Ethical values and moral values are almost synonymous. The only difference I can find is that what I consider ethical codes or values rely more on logic or a rationale and less on faith. And I take faith or belief to be that which exists in the space of the “unknown unknowns” where ” I don’t know what I don’t know”. Faith or belief then allows formulating the answer (and even the question) in the absence of evidence. But both ethical codes and moral codes specify  right and proper and desirable behaviour. Behaviour that is not unethical or immoral does not by default become ethical or moral.

In practice therefore;

  1. My values lead to my behaviour,
  2. Laws tell me what I ought not to do,
  3. Ethics tell me what I ought to do.

Many corporations and organisations and enterprises take the easy way out and adopt so-called ethical codes which are merely  a set of rules (codes of law). But this is merely relying on what not to do and is an abdication of the responsibility to come to a view on what is the right and proper thing to do. The right and proper behaviour must – I think – include a conscious choice from the various options available of what can be done and cannot be merely an exclusion of unacceptable or undesirable behaviour.

A child first accepts its parents view of what is right or wrong. As it grows it brings in and integrates what others consider right or wrong. Eventually a mature thinking individual develops his own views of what is right or wrong and integrates that with the views of the surrounding society. In this sense, most corporations and other organisations are still in their infancy and are content to rely only on what law excludes as being unacceptable. This in turn leads to a minimalist ethical code where anything which is not explicitly unlawful is perfectly OK.

Hence Enron and Satyam and Siemens and British Aerospace and …………

It is the having of an ethical code that matters.

Global Warming: “The science is terrible but—perhaps the psychology is good.”

July 10, 2010

Anthony Watts has a post revisiting the late Michael Crichton‘s 2003 lecture at Caltech which I had not seen before.

A lucid and eloquent exposition which I reproduce below. Reading it now in 2010 it is still fresh, applicable and apposite. It should be required reading for any young scientist of the dangers of religion or politics masquerading as science.

“Aliens Cause Global Warming”

A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming.

Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.

Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind. Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world might not be avery good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world.

But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demon haunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.

But let’s look at how it came to pass.


World Cup: The view from the bottom

June 27, 2010

After the group matches:

The ball is a loser. The Jabulani ball is unpredictable and flies through the air too easily. Long crosses have been unusually erratic. Goal kicks are routinely reaching the opposing goalkeeper.

N. Korea and Cameroon lost all their 3 group matches.

Algeria and Honduras scored no goals at all.

France, Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon, New Zealand, Italy, N. Korea and Honduras had no wins.

Uruguay, Argentina, USA, England, Holland, N. Zealand, Brazil and Portugal were undefeated.

Only Argentina and Holland won all their games.

N. Zealand and Australia acquitted themselves well but should not have been there (ahead of more deserving teams). N. Zealand did well enough to return home in triumph as undefeated warriors! Italy deserved their comeuppance. Maradonna was almost as entertaining off the pitch as his team was on the field.

N. Korea being there was a travesty but I hope their team members do not fall foul of the Great Leader. Apparently the catastrophic game against Portugal was shown live on TV after the delayed transmission of the first match. Some TV programming Director is also probably out of favour.

The quality of the matches has improved in the knock-out stage but very few games in the group play were a joy to watch.

The most innovative aspect of this World Cup remains the Vuvuzela.

vuvuzela.jpg VUVU image by ClutchlessBurgers

World Cup: The last 16

June 25, 2010

With the knock-out phase coming up perhaps we will see a little more purposeful and attractive brand of football.

Six teams left from Europe, 5 from S. America, 2 each from N. America and Asia and only one team from Africa. The work ethic and team spirit of Japan and S. Korea is in marked contrast to that of some of the teams from Europe. Italy and France notwithstanding it is not so much the eclipse of Europe as the rise of Asia and N. America. Africa did not live up to the expectations. Australia and N. Zealand should not have been there.

My current favourites are Argentina followed by Brazil and Germany. Japan may still cause a few  surprises.

Brazil against Portugal today has the potential to be a great match but will probably be rather dull.

Maybe I am getting used to the sound but the Vuvuzela does not seem as intrusive as it did in the first week.

photo: Japan v. Denmark

The Ten Cannots by Boetcker (1916)

June 17, 2010
Seen on JoNova

  1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
  2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
  3. You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
  4. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
  5. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
  6. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
  7. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
  8. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
  9. You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
  10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

William John Henry Boetcker (1873 – 1962) was an American religious leader and influential public speaker.

From Wikipedia:

Born in Hamburg, Germany, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister soon after his arrival in the United States. As a young adult. Rev. Boetcker was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania and ordained in Brooklyn, New York. He quickly gained attention as an eloquent motivational speaker.  Rev. Boetcker is perhaps best remembered for his authorship of a pamphlet entitled The Ten Cannots. Originally published in 1916, it is often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln.

Brainstorming for Innovation

June 12, 2010

In conducting and participating in brainstorming sessions for innovation, I have found the critical requirements, judged empirically, to be:

  1. A limited number of participants (about 20 in my experience is a practical limit and 5 is too few),
  2. A minimum level of intellectual ability (and I have seen sessions ruined because “political correctness” or misguided notions of “fairness” have led to the inclusion of incompetent participants),
  3. Sufficiently long but not too long sessions (with each session never less than one whole day and never more than 3 days is my rule of thumb),
  4. Well prepared participants who have spent sufficient time in individual contemplation of the matter at hand (and since participants tend to come to such sessions unprepared it has always been worthwhile to allocate time – perhaps half a day for a two-day session – at the beginning of the session for individual contemplation),
  5. A clearly prepared initial “problem statement” even if the group may itself later modify the problem statement,
  6. A moderator capable of cutting across hierarchical boundaries, avoiding negative comments during any idea-generation phase, of enforcing the grounding of statements during the assessment of ideas and unafraid of puncturing “noise” and “stories”, and
  7. A clearly communicated post-session process.

In Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea Prof. Girotra of INSEAD and Professors Terwiesch and Ulrich of Wharton examined the effectiveness of group dynamics and the innovation process. Their experiments show  that a hybrid process – in which people are given time for individual contemplation on their own before discussing ideas with their peers resulted in the generation of more ideas and of a higher quality than a purely team-oriented process. In a conventional team process concepts of “fairness” and hierarchical inhibitions were not conducive to innovation.

In my experience, the initial contemplation and role of the moderator and his ability are crucial.

Birds or People: Environmental Hypocrisy and Double Standards

June 11, 2010

Bhopal vs. The Gulf of Mexico or Union Carbide vs. BP

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is creating hysterical headlines, slide show after slide show of birds in oily distress and diatribes against BP which can only be described as a witch-hunt. The hysteria is – quite naturally – mainly in the US and it seems to be compounded by the fact that BP is a non-US conglomerate.

I have no idea of how culpable or negligent BP employees were.

But I note the contrast with the apologist and protective attitudes taken in the US when Union Carbide – a US Corporation – outsourced its production of the highly toxic methyl isocyanate to Bhopal in India. The gas leak in 1985 has killed close to 25000 people.The U.S. Supreme Court on October 4th, 1993 declined to review a U.S. Appeals Court decision that reaffirmed that the victims of the Bhopal tragedy lacked  legal standing to seek damages in the United States court system.  In 2001, Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide. This week, 25 years after the tragedy, the Indian courts sentenced eight Indian employees to 2 years imprisonment. None of the US executives of Union Carbide has been brought to trial let alone faced any sanctions.

But Bhopal is far away from the Gulf of Mexico and the beaches of Florida.

Government Doubles Earlier Gulf Flow Estimate, But Still Lowballing

The Bhopal tragedy

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