Thursday, October 23, 2014

In Distrust of Movements

Wendell Berry's 2001 essay "In Distrust of Movements" Passed along from the Orion Magazine...

The movements which deal with single issues or single solutions are bound to fail because they cannot control effects while leaving causes in place.

I have had with my friend Wes Jackson a number of useful conversations about the necessity of getting out of movements - even movements that have seemed necessary and dear to us -when they have lapsed into self-righteousness and self betrayal, as movements seem almost invariably to do. People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent. They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.

Read the rest here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Whew...a very long article on anti-aging technologies which actually seem to be pretty far out. A few observations the article makes: 
“For millennia, if not for eons—anthropology continuously pushes backward the time of human origin—life expectancy was short. The few people who grew old were assumed, because of their years, to have won the favor of the gods. The typical person was fortunate to reach 40.”
Hey, wait a second here...seems to me we have some sort of historical records from at least 2500 years ago in which ancient thinkers ponders the shortness of a normative 70ish year lifespan. Like for example this observation that was recorded a few years back
“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.”  – Psalm 90:10
Also Plato, that guy was around 80 when he died.
Oh yeah, also what about the dude in The Highlander? He was pretty old. Yeah anyway...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fairly Benign Article This Week

In fact she calls for almost universal cancer screening for women over 30. It is the "we can-so we must" argument. Except that it's not quite so simple as saying that the BRCA1 mutation is "exactly a cancer-causing genetic mutation." There are a few difficulties here. 
  • As the article notes there is controversy, (of course there is), as the evidence that women with BRCA1 mutations but no family history of breast cancer are at great risk is scant
  • First BRCA1 and BRCA2 have well over a hundred variations and only a few of these are associated with cancer and tumors. 
  • Also, there is the fact that 90% of women with breast cancer do not fall into the category of testing positive for BRCA1 mutations and coming from families with histories of breast cancer 
  •  On the other hand we are told that women who test positive for the BRCA1 mutations have a 85% lifetime risk of developing cancer.
  I pulled the data from these last 3 bullets from an excerpt in Robert Kolb’s book “The Ethics of Genetic Commerce.”

In any case, Dr. King has certainly mastered the language of rights-speak snippets:
“Why should women be protected from information that will empower them and allow them to control their lives? We don’t need that kind of protection.”
She added, though, that women should not be told about other rare mutations whose significance is unknown.

So then, we ought to take from Dr. King that women should be protected from some inconclusive information about mutations and it ought to be mandated that they are provided information about some other inconclusive information regarding mutations...or something, I guess. It’s all a matter of dictating by degrees it seems.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Because This Always Turns Out So Well in the Movies

So, how is it that humans think?
Wouldn’t Google need to need to have a really good grasp of human thought in order to mimic it? Not only how humans think, but what human thought is? More than just looking at the processes, but dealing with the question: “what is it that humans are doing when they are thinking different types of thoughts?”
For example, how is wisdom different from empiricism? 
I don't mean, what parts of the brain handle wisdom and which parts handle empiricism.
I mean what is wisdom and what is empiricism.
Does Google have a department of researchers who have delved into the mysteries of “epistem√©” or a “Division of Epistemology” perhaps?
WOWEE!!! It's a human soul...Nope, never mind. It's just a bunch of servers in a datacenter. 
 eWeek has a little more detail on this story and cites a blog post from Hartmut Neven, director of engineering for the Google Research group who writes the following:
 “If we want to cure diseases, we need better models of how they develop. If we want to create effective environmental policies, we need better models of what's happening to our climate. And if we want to build a more useful search engine, we need to better understand spoken questions and what's on the Web so you get the best answer."
Hmmm. So we’ve just got to do this or we won’t be able to cure diseases…or find really cute pictures of kittens on the internet.

But really the eWeek story is a bit less sensational while the Yahoo! bit seems like a headline to get clicks. All we can garner from any of this is that Google is really just about building systems that have the capacity to churn more data. I can’t really see how this is anything new from what computers already do. It’s just bigger, faster capacities and more simultaneous operations.

All a computer can do is operate a bunch of commands…essentially a pattern of “if-then” executions. This is not how human’s think.

As Jarod Lanier writes “You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?”

Monday, September 1, 2014

Issues in Science: Genetics and Embryology

This ought to help get some more regular posts up on this wall. I gave up pretty much all online news stories as well as FB over Lent this year and found it so freeing that I pretty much have stayed off since then. I've read maybe a handful of articles in news journals here and there and I've strayed back to FB or drudge now and then but have for the most part steered clear of the 24 hours news cycle and insta-opinion fabricators. I don't feel like I've missed a thing. It's not that I don't care. In fact, I was talking to a friend this weekend about how we sometimes feel like our opinion doesn't matter so the temptation is to give up and  develop a fatalist "nothing I can do about it" response. It's not that it doesn't matter what we think about events near and far. It absolutely does. It's just that we have gotten conditioned to think that somehow change is always 2 or 3 mouse clicks away and if it's not well...all consideration is futile. This is not to say that moral outrage is never an appropriate response. It's just that it is not always the most productive response. Sometimes it takes a while to develop a mature thought and a well considered response. Not just seconds or hours, but days, weeks and months...even (gasp) years. And just because we can't immediately measure the impact of our opinions on say, Syria, Gaza or Christians in Iraq doesn't mean that it doesn't matter what we think. 

Anyway, I have to comment on a weekly hot news story for one of my class in the Biotechnology track at school. So my hiatus from the trumped up world wide drama machine is now officially over. Fortunately, it's a simple assignment. A few comments or questions in short form. I can even use bullets. 

And...the story of the week is The Atlantic's coverage of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Australia (FODI) written by associate editor Kathy Gilsinan.

  • What is a dangerous idea? In the academic tradition of free inquiry how do we discern between what is different, unconventional, alternative, jarring, offense and what is down right dangerous or destructive? Also, is an idea destructive just because it is dangerous? What about provocative ideas in areas in which we need to be provoked? Gilsinan writes that "offense is practically baked into the conceit of systematically challenging deeply held beliefs specifically because they are deeply held."  I like that. Particularly in light of the Enlightenment Tradition of rejecting all revealed knowledge, dogmas and um, traditions in favors of some supposedly neutral Baconian empiricism in which we will eradicate all idols of the tribe, cave, marketplace and theatre. Surely, that is something that only other people do. Conceit indeed. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Celibacy As Resistance to The Man.

Very interesting article by Grant Kaplan of St. Louis University on opposing the mass imposition of Consumerist Sexuality and its implication on Church State relations.

Yes...I know Rush meant this as a rally for Libertarianism but I'm co-opting it because LIbertarianism is goofy and no thinking adult really wants it. Plus, the logo still works and is more valid when used as an appeal for authentic Humanism.
I'd take issue with Kaplan's opening paragraphs in which he downplays the merit of the Bishop's call to the "Fortnight for Freedom." Prayer and petitions are always our first recourse and I'm not sure that we have to worry about the Holy Spirit going through our prayers with a doctrinal scope to ensure philosophical soundness and theological orthodoxy before He will hear our pleas, (not that orthodoxy isn't relevant...obviously it is). In any case, efforts to focus our attention to appeal to God are never in vain and I say "good for the Bishops for first calling us to a prayerful response."

That said, I think this article is still well worth reading as there is some danger of us succumbing to a latent Americanism, (or at least cultural Calvinism as Cardinal George has warned ) in response to the cultural and political opposition of our times.  There is some really good history here and I think it sheds some light on the present situation of the Catholic Church in America.

Kaplan makes the case that Protestantism is inherently vulnerable to a kind of state domination while the Catholic Church always stands as a contradiction to worldly powers. Sure we have our weak, cowardly and poor spoken Bishops the same as anyone else. However, it's these quirky doctrines of ours, (real presence, sacraments, priestly celibacy, contraception, etc), that really causes the world to do the double take of dumbfounded-ness. It seems that here is where any state ideology will always eventually bump up against Catholicism and some sort of conflict will come to a head. I wonder if what we're seeing now in America could have been seen as almost inevitable from the start, (and even implicitly present in the intentions of the Founders). In any case, the Church is always called to be a sign of contradiction and in an age too focused on the present, (and focused on the control of the present and future), that contradiction will come to a point of outright conflict. Perhaps we shouldn't be so shocked when the state opposes us. Interesting point here on the 19th century Catholic German theologian Mohler who encouraged the Church to resist the fusing together of religious and national identity.
The Church has always been a scandal to the world and a sign of contradiction...all while being the only source of hope the world could ever have.

Also... Aaron Taylor at Ethika Politika has a whole slew of writing to peruse on celibacy as a voice for legitimate feminism.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It's a Wonderful Life...Always

If I'd known then what I do now, I'd have wanted him to die in my arms'

This is a really good article…and deserves way more than a quick FB comment. I think it poses some questions that require way more dignity than just a reaction.

She asks if we are always right to save premature babies because sometimes it is only "post-poning the inevitable…" But does any one think that it does justice to a child for a parent to say “It would be better if you were not alive.” She comments that it is “a great taboo to wonder if she should have let her son go when he was born so fragile and weak.” It is a great taboo for a reason. Would anyone ever want to hear “you’d have been better off dead” from their parents? Death is always inevitable. No one wants to bury a child. Still, isn't it the case that whether we know, (however much we can really know anything about such things), that our child may die as a teenager or die as an adult... isn't it still a reality that death is always inevitable?

What this mom is contending with is suffering.
And the question comes down to this…Can suffering make life meaningless to the point that it is not worth living?