Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Three Ways to Live


           Soren Kierkegaard was an 18th century Danish philosopher who focused in on how we live our lives and why. To Kierkegaard, he perceived that there were three mutually exclusive ways to live your life: the aesthetic life, the ethical life, and the religious life.  The differentiating factor between these three ways of life is the purpose in which you're perform your actions.  Although the actions themselves are important and a key to understand who we are, more important than what we do is why we do it.  Subsequently these three categories are divided due to the motivation of our actions rather than our actions themselves.


            The Aesthetic Life is a life in pursuit of interest, often sensual in nature. These people will seek out adventure and interest, their actions are guided by the all important question: “Is this, or will it be, interesting?” The Ethical Life is very much reason based and driving, often societal based, it is a life of ethics, commitment, and self sacrifice. In the minds of the ethical based they sacrifice sensual pleasure for a more lasting enjoyment. The Religious Life is a life motivated by faith in God, the question that motivates their actions is can be seen as the platitude “What would Jesus do?” Everything revolves around what God would have them do and how “this” action will affect their relationship with God. Often these choices are neither logical nor sensually beneficial. Although these categories are in Kierkegaard’s philosophy are mutually exclusive it is possible to belong to different categories of living at different point in your life as long as you belong to only one of the above categories at one time.

            Having outlined Kierkegaard’s philosophy of living we naturally introspectively ask ourselves: “Who am I? What motivates me?” For different people come different answers; our perception of ourselves often is not our reality.  Many would like to think of themselves as living ‘religious’ lives, or living a reasonable “ethical life’ but often we allow our desires cloud our perception of who we really are.

            In my self analysis I perceive that I live an ethical life style. In my attempt to objectively view my actions and motivations, I noticed several indicators that were either inconsistent with a religious or aesthetic life, or were supportive of an ethical life. I will examine each life in turn with examples that illustrate my alignment or dissidence with the said categorical life.

The Aesthetic Life
            In my personal life I abhor dramatic or theatrical displays of emotion or conflict. When there is emotional dissonance in my life I seek the fastest and most efficient solution so as to eliminate the emotional turmoil. I am forthright and blunt with my feelings seeking for solidity and “the bottom line”.  These actions eliminate much potential “interesting” living; many people who live the aesthetic life seek out and revel in such emotional unsurety and bore of uniformity.

            Another indicator that I am not living an aesthetic life is that I gain power and motivation from commitments. I construct personal commitments and account to myself in their completion because I feel the need to have that structure in my life. Those who live the aesthetic life shy from commitment preferring to be free to indulge in spontaneous interesting activities rather than be tied down. Their ambition and commitments are like the ocean, constantly revising the moving depending on which way the wind is blowing today. They will constantly look to see what, or who, is more interesting than what they are currently occupied with.

The Religious Life
            Although I personally am religious (meaning that I have a belief in deity) I do not believe I live a religious life. I have faith in a God, and that he is striving to communicate to me. My first reaction to conflict or dilemma is not “what would my God have me do?” but “what makes logical sense? What will ultimately bring the greatest quantity of long term happiness?” For one who lives a religious life is not concerned with their desires or well being or with his fellow man but for his Deity and the relationship that exists therein.

            If God asked me to do something that did not make sense to me, such as Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, I do not think I would do it based purely on faith, at least not initially. It might trigger a change in me to live a religious life, but currently I think the first thing I would do is ask “why”, which is rational, not faithful. A true religious liver, or as Kierkegaard coined “a knight of faith”, would act without question.

The Ethical Life
The Ethical life if venerated by Georg Hegel as the greatest, or highest, form of living. It is reason based. It is a system of weights and measurements, the person is always calculating what will be most beneficial for him and his fellowman. Commitment and sacrifice are employed to achieve a greater end.

This afternoon I was in a cafeteria and was hungry. I went to the various food establishments to view their goods. I saw many choices, and as I viewed the selections aromas triggered in my brain intense hunger. As I surveyed the food I had a desire to eat it, but as I viewed the prices I was forcibly reminded of last night when I was in the grocery store. The pricesfor the food was much higher for the amount of nourishment here than it was at the store, so I left the cafeteria and decided to forgo lunch for a few hours until I returned home. This is an example of living an ethical life. I sacrificed what I very sensually wanted for logical reasons. I believed that practicing self sacrifice then would greater benefit me in the future.

As mentioned about I commit myself to principles and values which is a sign of the ethical life. Often times I will ignore chosen aspects of living because I am not yet ready to commit to living them. When I learn I feel an obligation to apply through commitments, and when I commit I feel it almost impossible to discard the commitment. I do this because I believe that by binding down ourselves in actions we ultimately can have greater freedom and pleasure in the long run.

In reflection of Kierkegaard’s philosophical standards I feel confident in my assessment I would be considered currently to be living an ethical life. This knowledge allows me to better understand myself, understand others, and apply that understanding (in my ethical way) to best benefit myself and my fellow man. Through this I can understand and better predict what and why different people do different things, I can more accurately select friends, associates and environments which will support and augment my personal characteristics and endeavors. By understanding others you better understand yourself.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Living in the Past - The Imperial System

As a Canadian growing up in the 90's I am used to using the metric system for pretty much all measurements.  Albeit I do causally use the Old Imperial system for my personal height, weight and some other incidental social uses but in general I keep away from it.  Why? Because it makes no logical sense.

What is the Imperial System?
The Imperial system as we know it today was inaugurated in 1824 by the British. It was subsequently adopted by as an international standard in measurement. The origins of this system come from just after the turn of the first millennium, 1066, but has been since heavily revised.

When I first moved down to the United States in 2007 I was talking to some Americans who referenced the "standard" measurement, or the "standard" system.  I was confused as to what they were referring to. I came to find out that it was what I knew as the Imperial System.  I was somewhat amused at the name as it showed in my eyes an aversion to the United Kingdom origins and also because the "standard" measurement was somewhat ironic in its title as "the standard" is only found in the United States of America.

Currently there are virtually no countries that use the Imperial System of measurement, but rather they have adopted the Metric system so reasons which will become indubitably clear as we continue.

The Imperial system was discarded starting in the middle of the 20th century, and is now obsolete. The following map shows the adoption of the metric system in the world today.

As you can see the only countries not to adopt the Metric system is the United States, Myanmar, and Liberia.

What's Wrong With the Imperial System?
The Imperial system is very unintuitive and random. To understand it you must remember apparent random numbers, deal in obtrusive fractions where in the dividend constantly is changing, and convert to metric for scientific measurement.

Let us take a look at the current Imperial measurements in relation to their like measurements.

 Length
 12 inches = 1 foot
 3 feet = 1 yard
 4840 sq. yards = 1 acre
 5280 feet = 1 mile
 1760 yards = 1 mile
  
Mass
 16 ounces = 1 pound

Volume (Dry)
 2 pints = 1 quart
 8 quarts = 1 peck
 4 pecks = 1 bushel

Volume (Liquid)
8 ounces = 1 cup
16 ounces = 1 pint
2 pints = 1 quart
4 quarts = 1 gallon

Notice the very unintuitive numbers and names. Here is an example - how easy it to remember that a mile is 5280 feet? How easy is it to remember that a cup is half of a pint, or that a quart is double a pint? It a very arbitrary system with little correlation or intelligent logic. 

I worked in construction as a cabinet installer. The problem was that they would use both measurements because even when you are in Canada there are those that still use the Imperial system, or there are objects or material that come from the United States. Striving to make calculations in imperial is about as fun as doing dental work on a tiger. Lets say you had to had to add two imperial measurements, add 23/32 and 3/8.  You would have to times  3/8 by 2 (to make it 6/16) than again by 2 (to make it 12/32) then add it to 23/32 making it 1 3/32. This may not seem very complicated to you, but converting and measuring it with a tape measure several times every day takes up significantly more time than it would in the metric system. 

What is the Metric System?
 The metric system was conceptualized in France in 1791.  In stead of using arbitrary numbers it uses a system based on the number 10, the same system that we currently use to count. In stead of having strange fractions such as 2/32 or 1/64 or 1/8 it uses decimals such as 0.063, 0.016, or 0.125.  These are perfectly standard to each other requiring no conversions or simplifying to use together.  by 

Looking at the above measurements all I would have to do it add .719 (23/32) to .375(3/8) which is 1.094. No conversions no dealing with small integer ticks on the tape measure, as a construction worker it makes it much easier.    

Not only is the number system much simpler the names are intuitive, logical, and are less finite(meaning you don't have to invent new words for larger numbers). Lets take a look at the metric measurements.

Pico    - 0.000,000,000,001
Nano  - 0.000,000,001 
Micro - 0.000,001
Milli   -  0.001
Centi -  0.01
Deci  -  0.1
Deca -  10
Hecto- 100
Kilo   - 1,000
Mega -  1,000,000
Giga   - 1,000,000,000
Tera   - 1,000,000,000,000
Peta   - 1,000,000,000,000,000

And it continues on both smaller and larger. These measurements apply to various measurements: Length, weight, volume, mass, etc.  You don't have to remember arbitrary words and number for different measurements, it is common language in relation to the base measurement (e.g. Meter, Gram, byte, watt).  

Example:
Kilometer
Kiloliter
Kilogram
Kilowatt
Kilobyte
Kilojoule 

Conclusion 
For simplicities sake American needs to bit the bullet and finish what they tried and failed to do in the 80-90's change the broken system.  I am no republican, I am not democratic, I am a Canadian, but I see hope in the some changes that are being purposed today in the United States. To change means to admit that you are wrong, or that there are better systems out there. 

I sometimes feel that America turns a blind eye to change because of supposed prosperity, but an inflexible country will not stand long. I would prefer to see the United States as a economic and political world leader, but to continue to be such change is needed. It is something that I think America struggles with, we need to look at things as they are, acknowledge what doesn't work, and embrace the change. America has been a leading power in society for the less than 100 years, I would prefer that it stay as it is now for a longer duration of time.

In closing; when it comes down to it the Imperial system just does not measure up, it's time for change.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Some Problems with Cause and Effects


         A highly reliant concept in todays society is cause and effect.  We use this but is this really reliable?  Can we receive proof from these test? Some thing so, but some do not.

         David Hume was a philosopher who lived 1711 to 1776 in Scotland.  In juxtaposition with the commonly accepted philosophies of the day, and even of those today, he asserts disbelief in common doctrine of causation.  Causation is the sociological and philosophical idea that everything reacts to events in a uniformly predictable way.  Causality is the relationship between causes and effects where the second is a consequence dependant on the first.  Hume says that when we observe or say we observe an effect as a product of a cause it is not reason that links the cause and effect together but rather past experience.  The cause and effect are independent distinct events and are not linked together except by our mind from past experience.  The question arises “how can we justify applying conclusions based on past experience to modern experience when there is no known uniformity?”  To be able to establish cause and effect we must be able to authoritatively prove the reason why the effect took place in relation to the cause. Because the theory of cause and effect hinges on experience and not matters of fact it is impossible to demonstrate a unquestionable cause and effect.  There can always be alternate theories that could have been the cause of the effect, no matter how bizarre or unlikely it may seem.  Any appeal to probability or past experience can be dismissed as it assumes uniformity, which cannot be proven without an appeal to past experience, making it circular. 

           To illustrate this reasoning I will use a modern example of cause and effect.  There is a debate going on today about cause and effect; a small movement in the United States of America asserts that there the current vaccines and their administration causes and promotes the effect of Autism.  They cite evidence that shows the number of vaccines that a child receives has risen in the past twenty years, they then look at the number of people diagnosed with autism, and see that it has risen over the past twenty years as by over 1000%.   They thus assert that because we have increased the number or vaccines a child receives and also the number of people diagnosed with autism has increased that the increase of vaccines causes an increase of autism. Thus:

         Cause = Increase of children’s’ vaccines
         Effect = Increase of Autim

The problem with this theory is that although their statistics are accurate, there could be an infinite number of other reasons that number of diagnoses of autism has risen.  I will give 3 examples:
  1. The reason for the rise of diagnosed autism may be that the medical practices have increased in their ability to accurately identify and diagnose autism, particularly in less severe cases, which previously would not have been diagnosed as autism.  This would mean that autism hasn’t necessarily risen, but just the recognition and diagnoses of such has. 
  2. Another reason that autism could have risen so drastically in the last twenty years is the use of electronics.  The use of electronics has risen exponentially in the past twenty years. If we look at the correlation between the use of electronics and diagnosed autism we can use their logic to ‘prove’ that the increase of electronics has caused a rise of diagnosed autism.
  3. A third possible reason for the rise of diagnosed autism could be that the people are much more dependent on the health care and health professional then they were twenty years ago.  Thus more children are diagnosed with autism because more are submitted to be tested for autism.

      These are a just a few possible examples of alternate possibilities of this theory, but they help illustrate that there is not one undeniable reason that something happens; there can always be alternate possibilities for a theory regardless of how improbably or unlikely they may seem.  Improbably and unlikely things happen every day, the only way that you could prove that something caused something else is to identify all possible causes and disprove every single one except for the excepted cause.  Even if you were to somehow do this, how would you know that there are no other possible explanations? You can’t, thus it has to be open for possible future findings or explanations and can never be a proven cause.   



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