Human Nature

June 14, 2010


I was thinking more and more about what I think human nature is.

This quote is a good summary of my belief:

“Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told–and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their ‘beliefs.’ The reason is that beliefs guide behavior, which has evolutionary importance among human beings. But at a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. “

Clocks and Clouds

June 14, 2010

Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds.

Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.”

The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure.

We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.

Gas should probably cost even more.

June 14, 2010

@ Andrew:

One cost your analysis excluded was price fluctuation.

(Over a Barrel: The Costs of U.S. Foreign Oil Dependence (Stanford Law Books)
John Duffield)

“Uncertainty costs money,” says David Edwards of VantagePoint Venture Partners, and it is now the fossil fuels that have increasingly uncertain prices attached to them, and it is the renewables that have increasingly certain prices attached to them.

Center for American Progress in November 2007,
Our economy’s dependence on oil, independent of whether it is domestic or imported, contributes significantly to our vulnerability to price shocks….The oil market upheavals of the last 30 years (such as the 1973 Arab oil embargo) have cost the U.S. economy some $8 trillion.

Another missing cost was human lives:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked gasoline as the number one source of toxic emissions.

The Harvard School of Public Health attributed 70,000 deaths to these toxic emissions annually. Lives are shortened by an average of one to two years, according to research by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University.

In a 1999 report, the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles concluded not only that mobile pollution sources are responsible for about 90% of the total cancer risk in the area

Its only going to get worse.
Inform Inc, Dec 10, 2008: “At current rates of use, more oil will be burned in the next 20 years than has been burned throughout all of human history”

How Much Should Gas Cost

June 13, 2010

We were having an argument some time ago about the “proper” price of gas: that is, how much an efficiently priced gallon of gasoline would cost, including all externalities. I just read an article by Bradley Rosser that linked to an article by Ezra Klein that referenced a study that gave a pretty satisfying answer: $4.37 per gallon. Money quote from Rosser:

At the time of the report, the average price of gas in the US was $2.72 per gallon, but after adding in (in order of estimated costs), 52 cents for traffic congestion, 41 cents for auto accidents, 30 cents for energy security, 20 cents for climate change, 12 cents for local pollution, and 10 cents for oil dependence, this brings a supposedly more efficient prices of $4.37 per gallon.

History of Marijuana

June 13, 2010

This video (thanks Weeds!) briefly (2 minutes) explains the history of marijuana. It’s really, really interesting.
Personal Highlights:

Mandated crop in Jamestown,
Grown by Washington,
Sent with Columbus ,

Metaphor, Meaning, and Mindfulness

June 13, 2010

A WORD is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day. – Emily Dickinson

“Metaphor allows the mind to use a few basic ideas – substance, location, force, goal- to understand more abstract domains. Combinatorics allow a finite set of simple ideas to give rise to an infinite set of complex ones.” – Steven Pinker

I’d like to bring Rorty into focus: We all (who have read CIS) know that Rorty thinks that the function of philosophy is not to edify old ways of speaking. Rather, the function of philosophy is to make it easier to speak in new, more useful ways.

According to the internet encyclopedia of philosophy, Rorty sees “philosophy as metaphor. Once one abandons the search for truth and for a reality that is concealed behind the everyday world, the role of a social practice in the vanguard of cultural change and innovation (philosophical or otherwise) is, or ought to be, to liberate humanity from old metaphors that are rooted in superstition, mystification, and a religion-inspired mindset. He suggests that this can be done by offering new metaphors and reshaping vocabularies that will accommodate new, “abnormal” insights.”‘

We must consciously fashion our own metaphors to cope with the world. If we can free ourselves from the tyranny of locating and adopting a transcendental vocabulary, human ingenuity and creativity will craft undreamt of possibilities as surely as Galileo reinvented our understanding of the “heavens” by jettisoning of the outmoded Aristotelian crystalline celestial metaphor.

Rorty’s argument has a fascinating psychological basis. (Zach: evolutionary basis too!)

Arnie Kozak, Ph. D and Clinicial Instructor in Psychiatry and Medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine explains that
“Robert Frost warned, “Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” Metaphors are often thought of as colorful augmenting features of language. However, a large body of scholarship shows that ordinary “literal” language is infused with metaphors. It is impossible to think, feel, or act without the use of metaphors. In fact, the evolution of the human mind may have depended on the use of metaphors. The words we use are not “dead” and the concepts they point to can contribute to stress, mental suffering, psychopathology, and unhappiness.”

The metaphors we utilize determine how we live. They determine our actions, beliefs, desires, and faith.

As George Lakoff explains in Metaphors We Live By, “People think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

Szasz on Metaphor

June 13, 2010

I wanted to write a post on metaphor.

I wanted to try to justify my belief that it is worth struggling through poetry until ease comes naturally.

So, I typed into google “if you are not at home in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” I thought this was a (nearly) direct quote from Frost’s essay, Education by Poetry.

The first hit, interestingly enough, was a paper by Thomas Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness and Coercion as Cure: A Critical History of Psychiatry).

Szasz shares a remarkable story.

In 1931 Robert Frost delivered a lecture at Amherst College with the unexciting title “Education by Poetry.” It is a profound meditation on, and warning about, uses and abuses of metaphor. Long before I “discovered” the vast errors hidden from us by the metaphor of mental illness, Frost wrote:

“Health is another good word. And that is the metaphor Freudianism trades on, mental health. And the first thing we know, it has us all in up to the top knot.. What I am pointing out is that unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere. Because you are not at east with figurative values: you don’t know the metaphor in its strength and its weakness. You don’t know how far you may expect to ride it and when it may break down with you. You are not safe with science; you are not safe in history … They don’t know what they may safely like in the libraries and galleries. They don’t know how to judge an editorial when they see one. They don’t know how to judge a political campaign. They don’t know when they are being fooled by a metaphor, an analogy, a parable. And metaphor is, of course, what we are talking about. Education by poetry is education by metaphor.'”

“Paraphrasing that phrase, I suggest that education by psychiatry is education by and with mendacity, a thesis I have maintained for more than half a century.”

Szasz concludes,
“If you are ignorant of metaphor, warned Frost, “You are not safe with science, you are not safe in history… in the libraries and the galleries.” You are certainly not safe if you believe that psychiatrists care for and cure sick people, when in fact the coerce and control persons helpless to resist their violence.”