Tag Archives: formerly Mr Dean

What is a coincidence?

By Arthur Kary.

The aim of this post is to get deep into coincidences, and try to figure out what exactly is going on. It would help if you thought of this as more of a hypothesis than any attempt at a theory, just me throwing out a few ideas to get everyone thinking about it. I’m going to argue that the dominant aspect of coincidences is the subjective attitudes we have towards the events, rather than the ontological nature of the events themselves.

Coincidences themselves do not exhibit the properties of ‘remarkable’ or ‘weird’. That an event is a coincidence is not like an object refracting particles of light, doing so whether someone is watching it or not. What makes coincidences so interesting to me is that they rely on an observer to recognise them. They need someone to add the remarkable to it through their perception of the event. A definition of coincidences I propose is ‘an unlikely and apparently uncaused relationship between objects or events, the observation of which causes in the perceiver a particular emotional response’. I will now talk about that particular emotional response, focusing on why we might feel it, and also bring to light the big role it plays in the overall coincidence phenomena.

Unlikely in that definition, taken simply, means you don’t come across it very often. But unlikely can also be looked at in a more abstract way. Given someone’s way of understanding the world, the possibilities and significance of any particular event occurring are apt to change.

The feeling of coming across a coincidence, I think, is the violation of one’s schema, or way of understanding the world, by an event that doesn’t fit in it, or is improbable according to it. Coming across someone who shares a birthday with you may seem an unlikely event in your schema, you may term it a coincidence, but as anyone who has attended a Phil Staines lecture knows, the probability of being in a room with someone who has the same birthday as you exceeds 50% with only 23 people in it. For the person who has that knowledge, that relationship does not have the same significance. Another important point is that despite each scenario ending up with different outcomes, either experiencing a coincidence or not, the physical events leading up to it are all the same. It is the interpretation on behalf of the individuals that changes the outcomes.

So to sum up my argument, I think coincidences are primarily the result of our expectations of the world compared to the world itself. Events and relationships in the universe do not have a significant quality or a weird quality as part of their constitutions. These properties are attributed by us, in our experience of those events. If we look at coincidences in this way, we are able to avoid attributing extra forces or phenomena to the universe, instead acknowledging how we may be shaping the world through our experience of it.

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What is Chinese philosophy?

By Wai Wai Chiu.

Like the history of Western philosophy, Chinese thought is divided into different periods. The period which is usually labelled as the golden age of Chinese thought is the pre-Qin period. This is the period where the widest variety of schools prevailed. (Qin is the name of a dynasty in China around 221 B.C – 207 B.C. The pre-Qin period usually covers 770 B.C. – 221 B.C. Compare Socrates, who lived around 469 B.C. – 399 B.C., and Plato, who lived around 429 B.C. – 347 B.C.)

When we talk about a contrast or comparison between Chinese philosophy and Western philosophy, we do not mean that there is a singular, unified view in Chinese philosophy and a singular, unified view in Western philosophy. Rather, we point to some similarity among schools in China and some similarity among Western schools, and sketch the context and the topic in which they can be compared, noting that every similarity makes sense only under some conditions.

Very briefly, the primary concern of Chinese thought is self-cultivation in this world. This includes the transformation of one’s character, habit, disposition and other faculties. But it should be noted that different thinkers have different conceptions of what self-cultivation is and how we should carry it out. Most of them will agree, however, that problems in knowledge, politics and even reality cannot be considered as independent of self-cultivation. For example, in discussing politics, the government is supposed to be a model for ordinary people. The government should educate them, to help them engage in self-cultivation.

Western philosophy has a close relationship with mathematics, and later, with logic and physics. For example, Plato claims that his doctrine is prepared only for those who know geometry. And if this is the requirement for philosophical thinking, I guess many Chinese thinkers will be considered as not suitable or eligible for philosophy! From geometry, Plato thinks that philosophy should be freed from particulars, be static, clear and demonstrable. The construction of philosophy should resemble the Euclidean system. While in China, philosophy is more connected to history and literature. The founder of Confucianism, Confucius, emphasized the study of poetry and traditional propriety. Like literature, the spirit of philosophy lies in the transformation of one’s character and sentiments, and like history, philosophy is a continuous response to tradition (and the social environment shaped by tradition).

The emphasis in Western philosophy is on clear and precise concepts, definition, truth, and universality, an approach which favours deduction and the formulation of rules and principles. Some of these serve like axioms in mathematics, some of them as corollaries. To paraphrase Plato again, a philosopher is supposed to engage in pure thinking, to philosophize in a realm that is strictly governed by reason alone. Nowadays, justification still plays a supreme role in philosophy. And here, justification concerns constructing arguments from propositions.

For ancient Chinese thinkers, however, the faculty of reason is not singled out as the VIP in philosophy. Actually, in some schools there is not even a clear distinction between reason and sentiment. Whether a doctrine can be justified is often measured by the effect of the doctrine on one’s self-cultivation or social order. It is more important to see what can be inspired by a statement and what modification it brings to our practice than to clear it systematically in our mind. Therefore, the use of analogy and metaphor is very common, and Chinese thinkers often elaborate an idea by giving various examples (which is quite the opposite of Plato), relating its significance to the audience or sometimes telling a story. Also, Chinese thinkers have a stronger inclination to synthesize different theories, even those of opponents.

Greek philosophy puts much emphasis on the descriptive or representative function of language. Language is supposed to match reality, and each sentence points to a fact which is in some sense independent of human make-ups. Correspondence is a very important idea in Western philosophy of language. On the other hand, Chinese philosophy puts more emphasis on language’s prescriptive or orientative function. Language is primarily associated with guiding human interaction. Some thinkers think that each name prescribes certain actions. Correspondence is replaced by the effectiveness of the motivational power of language.

Most Western philosophical texts are written in Indo-European derived languages, while Chinese has had its own linguistic development. Translation to a foreign language, like English, is made difficult by the absence in ancient Chinese of articles, prefixes, suffixes, tenses, distinctions between singular and plural, and so on. This makes each character and each word in Chinese a cluster of meaning and an indeterminate reference sometimes fixed only temporarily by context. This feature may be a disturbance or a treasure -depending on how one thinks about language, meaning and the worldview behind each system of language.

Is all seduction manipulation? Is there a right and a wrong way of seducing someone?

 By Nick Hayward.

Plato and Socrates were clear on love. There is common (pandemotic) love and there is heavenly (ouranian) love – carnal desire versus desire for the transcendental. The former, says the Symposium, is the kind of end to which seduction should not be directed. Seducers pursuing nothing but sex are the deceptive ones, manipulative, base and trapped in the cave. Love is not of a particular body or a particular thing, but rather it is the Idea of love that so many lovely things partake in. It is more virtuous to pursue this Idea (and forsake the pursuit of sexual gratification) or to inspire others (through seduction) to pursue the Idea in your step.

 

And Plato and Socrates also had some very practical advice for the seducer. In the Lysis, Socrates savages Hippothales, who does nothing but flatter his beloved with songs and poetry. Flattery only sets you up for a fall, he says. What you really need to do is humble your lover, take the wind out of their sails – bring them down a notch. Then they’re all yours. Socrates’ humbling of Lysis, the object of Hippothales’ affection, takes the form of a questioning, an elenctic examination. Socrates doesn’t just want Lysis to feel humbled, he wants him to feel like he knows nothing – he wants to start him on the path to philosophy and the pursuit of Ideas.

 

I argue that this advice – to humble your beloved instead of flattering them – has been twisted and taken to an extreme by the modern ‘seduction community’, the ‘pick-up artists’ who apparently live for little other than seduction and sex. One of the techniques advocated by this fraternity, called ‘negging’, is a subtle humbling intended to take a woman down a notch (‘great nails…are they real?’) The seduction community freely trades insults and one-liners of this sort, and sees their success as vindication of a cynical, misogynistic attitude towards the opposite sex. But they miss the point. It is never right to put someone down in order to satisfy your own (sexual) desires. Socrates, however, suggests that it might be right to put someone down in order to have them realize how little they know.

 

And there is more advice to be found in Plato. Towards the end of the Symposium, Alcibiades bursts into the dinner-party, drunk and belligerent. He tells the other symposiasts of the time he failed to seduce Socrates: his entreaties, his wining and dining, his embarrassment. Alcibiades talks about the nature of his desire to partake in Socrates’ virtue by seducing and having sex with him. We find, however, that this desire is perhaps not so genuine. Alcibiades finds it easy to revert to the apathetic mean and fall in with the masses when he cannot acquire virtue simply by gratifying a virtuous man. The lesson here is that the conflation of lust and love is misleading. The only way to become a better person or to pursue the Idea of love is to examine yourself, to commit to the path of philosophy. Sex and seduction are not and cannot be ends in themselves. Again, the seduction community misses the point.

 

Of course, all the contentions above can be vigorously challenged. Is it really virtuous to manipulate someone towards an end of your choosing? (Such as the pursuit of a Platonic Idea.) Can you ever escape carnal desire? Maybe all conversation is persuasion. If so, where do you draw the line between persuasion and manipulation? Just what is manipulation, and what is seduction? Socrates was perhaps a tad overmodest. How can a man who claims to know nothing know that it is right to humble others? (…for the sake of philosophy?) The seduction community began as a rarefied meat-market. Was it so bad then? Is there a problem with people enjoying the seduction game? What is the nature of the power relation between seducer and seductee?

Cut the Crap…The Dream Theory

By Albert Russell

Tree

When I was asked to present a topic, I felt like a person in the middle of a hot and dry desert who suddenly heard the sound of water, and found hope of reaching the water.

I wanted to talk about Arthur Schopenhauer’s book “On the suffering of the world”, but then I thought it might be better to talk about some fundamental questions: “Who am I?”, “Where am I coming from?”, “Where am I going to?’’ and “Do I really exist?” 

I have been thinking about the answers to these questions for a long time. As a result, I have come to develop a theory which provides me with satisfactory answers. The theory is that the whole universe is nothing more than a deep dream. And time and space are the factors which make this dream deeper, making it easier to believe it as reality. Since an object has both time and space dimensions, then it will experience past, present and future in one direction. If the same object exists in a realm in which there is no time and space, then there is no past, present and future concerning the object. In other words that object knows about past, present and future at the same moment.

If we assume that this world we live in is a dream containing time and space dimensions, and the waking world is the world with no time and space dimensions, then when we wake up those questions will become meaningless, since there is no past, present and future in the waking world. These questions only belong to the dreaming world.

But this theory leads me to some other questions. “Regarding this theory, do the definitions of religion, science and philosophy change from the dreaming realm to the waking one?”, “Are we free in this dreaming world?”, “Did we choose to be a part of this dream?”

When I read the book “On the suffering of the world” by Schopenhauer, I came to believe even more firmly in my dreaming theory, as I felt a deep connection between my ideas and his.  Here is a passage from his book:

“Life can be regarded as a dream and death as the awakening from it: but it must be remembered that the personality, the individual, belongs to the dreaming and not to the awakened consciousness, which is why death appears to the individual as annihilation. In any event, death is not, from this point of view, to be considered a transition to a state completely new and foreign to us, but rather a return to one originally our own from which life has been only a brief absence.”

 

The double standard of race categorization

By Matthew Hammerton

Consider the following thought experiment: Barack Obama achieves a momentous and rapid rise to one of the highest political offices in his country much like what has just happened in the actual world but with one key difference. Rather than climbing the ladder of American politics, it is Kenyan politics that Obama ascends. This scenario is not as far fetched as it might sound as when Obama was two years old his Kenyan father left Barack and his mother and returned to Kenya. What if Mr Obama had taken his son with him and Barack had been brought up as a citizen of Kenya? In this case, perhaps Obama’s political ambitions would have been played out in a Kenyan and not an American context.

So suppose that Barack Obama, Kenyan citizen with an American mother and Kenyan father has just been elected President of Kenya. What will the headlines say? One thing they definitely won’t say is: “White man elected as President of Kenya for the first time”. In fact, many people would find this headline absurd – Obama is not a white man he is a black man. If Obama was elected president of Kenya it might be significant that he is the first president to have an American parent, or even the first president to have one parent who is white, but nobody would describe him as ‘Kenya’s first white President’.

But let’s pause on this. Obama’s heritage is one half black and one half white. So why does “Black man elected president” sound credible in a US context while “White man elected president” seems incorrect or even absurd in a Kenyan context? Why is it acceptable to describe Obama as ‘black’ but misleading to describe him as ‘white’? The answer has to do with the way racial categorizations are applied. The categorization ‘black’ (and the same can be said for some other racial categorizations like ‘Asian’) is applied in such a way that people are described as ‘black’ if they have any noticeable ‘black characteristics’. On the other hand, the categorization ‘white’ is applied such that people of predominantly white heritage but with noticeable ‘black characteristics’ are not counted as white. This means that most combinations of ‘white’ and ‘black’ heritage an individual can possess end up being classed as ‘black’. We can call this system of racial categorization ‘irregular’ as it involves applying racial categories in a way disproportionate to the actual racial heritage of the individual. A child with ½ black heritage and ½ white heritage is usually classed as ‘black’ and never classed as ‘white’. A child with ¼ black heritage and ¾ white heritage is often classed as ‘black’ and may also be classed as ‘mixed race’, but is rarely classed as ‘white’. A child with ¾ black heritage and ¼ white heritage is nearly always classed as ‘black’ and rarely classed as ‘mixed race’.

This account of racial categorization is very obvious when one cares to look. Several well-known ‘black men’ and ‘black women’ actually have combined white and black heritage, some even have predominantly white heritage (eg. Alicia Keys). Of course, the system of racial categorization I have described is not unanimous. Sometimes terms like ‘mixed race’ or ‘bi-racial’ are consistently used to describe anyone who has a mixture of races in their heritage. The term ‘African American’ is also sometimes used as an alternative to ‘black’ and in its typical usage does not involve irregular categorization.

Finally, people who have a predominantly black heritage (perhaps >90%), will sometimes class those with mixed black and white heritage as not ‘real’ blacks. But despite these exceptions, on the whole, the irregular racial categorization system I have described is dominant across the western world and is evident in folk discourse on race.

How did these categorization practices arise? One plausible answer is that they come from the crude racial theories that were adopted by Europeans during the slavery era and which regarded the white race as superior and more pure than other races. As a result of these theories, any noticeable ‘non-white characteristics’ where associated with inferiority or impurity and people possessing these characteristics where subsumed into non-white racial categories, even if they where predominantly white in heritage. That such an irregular system of racial categorization was used during a period when prejudicial racial science was dominant is not a surprise. What is surprising is that today in a post-colonial, post-slavery and post-segregation era, the same irregular system of racial categorization continues. Modern usage of this irregular system usually does not reflect explicit racial prejudice. Those inclined to judge someone of equal black and white heritage as ‘black’, do not typically do so because of racial prejudice, but because of force of habit and cultural osmosis. However, even if this practice is not explicitly racist, it is the legacy of a racist era and we should ask ourselves whether our use of irregular racial categorization is implicitly racist? If we think it is implicitly racist, then this suggests we ought to reform our practice and begin to describe people with a multiracial heritage in more neutral terms that neither privilege nor neglect any one part of their heritage.

Tharunka – Is an inhumane world worth preserving?

The following first appeared in UNSW’s Tharunka magazine as part of their regular “Hypothetically Speaking” column.

“Cruelty to animals is bad. So is environmental degradation. Is it better to eat food produced using humane but environmentally destructive methods, or food which involves cruelty to animals but has minimal environmental impact?”

By Rachel Hayter

Option 1: Endorse cruelty to animals in food production and ensure a sustainable environment, and thus the survival of life on earth.

Option 2: Endorse the humane treatment of animals in food production and condone the destruction of the environment, and thus the demise of life on earth.

Food and a sustainable environment are both necessary for survival. The humane treatment of animals is not. Protecting animals in the short term, while degrading the environment, is a self-defeating act—in the animals’ case, a different means to the same end. Eventually the environment, sustainer of all life, will be destroyed. Surely the ultimate end, or rather the avoidance of ours, is what matters most?

Although it seems the practical choice, the ethical implications of subscribing to Option 1 are dire. Yes, life on earth is ensured, but at what cost? When our ‘humane-ness’, our humanity, is compromised, what have we left but mere subsistence? Is an inhumane world even worth preserving?

Let’s imagine a world sustained by the logic of Option 1. The moral worth of an action is not determined by intention, or the character of the act itself (e.g. cruelty), but dependent purely on its outcome (e.g. survival). By this reasoning, any apparent moral action which is not necessary for the ultimate survival of the human race is worthless.

Anthropocentrism assumed, let us hope a perfect definition of what it is to be an animal has been established. It seems the only thing protecting individuals from this fundamentalist utilitarianism is our membership to the species Homo sapiens.

Is the distinction between Homo sapiens and animals, including great apes and whales, as pronounced as Option 1 would imply? Is it enough to warrant the institutionalised cruelty by the former to the latter?

Rejecting Speciesism entails an alternative understanding of what it is to be human—a quality of personhood, rather than the evolutionary providence of belonging to a species. The concept of personhood is vague. There can be drawn no precise line between classifications of ‘is’ and ‘is not’. DeGrazia outlines distinguishing properties of autonomy, rationality, self-awareness, linguistic competence, sociability, capacity for intentional action, and moral agency.

By this definition, great apes and whales are cases of paradigm persons and severely mentally handicapped and infant humans are not persons at all. Support of Option 1 has suddenly become more dangerous than anticipated— parallels with Nazism are clear.

Before subscribing to Option 1 based on your animalistic survival instincts, trace the consequences of your decision. Once cruelty has been institutionalised, our moral watershed has been sacrificed.

There exist cases of healthy whales, voluntarily, temporarily beaching themselves, as displays of solidarity to dying, beached group members. Is it morally justifiable to endorse cruelty to one of these animals in the interests of sustaining the life of a human mass-murderer, or rapist? Is an inhumane world even worth preserving?

Discussion group – what is love?

By Asra Gholami

“You know what love is?

It is all kindness, generosity

Disharmony prevails when

You confuse lust with love, while

The distance between the two

Is endless” (Rumi) 

So the question is: what is love?

I’ve been hearing different definitions of love recently, strange definitions actually. The discussion in the Socratic society at week seven about “dating” showed that many people are confused about love. I think the confusion is that people are looking to satisfy their physical and emotional needs, and they call these satisfactions “love”, which is not correct. Love does not have a reason, love is not for benefit. You simply love the beloved because you love him or her. Indeed in many cases you should sacrifice for the beloved and suffering is an integral part of love.

I read something interesting on the internet the other day. In a survey of 4-8 years olds, kids share their views on love. Some of these views are:

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day”.

“Love is when mommy gives daddy the best piece of chicken”

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries, without making them give you any of theirs”

To make me sad on the weekend one of my friends told me:  “Guess what, I’ve changed my opinion about love. Love doesn’t exist. It’s just people getting used to each other. Love is just a word to describe our thoughts about someone when we don’t see him or her for a while.”

However there are some other friends who keep me hopeful that love has been understood by a few people at least. One of these friends once told me his idea of love which I really liked. I think it was wonderful. He described love as “magic and hard work”. The magic occurs in the meeting of two souls. The hard work is what it takes to grow this “meeting” into something strong and robust, something lasting. A perfect description of love I think.

So I think it would be interesting and depressing at the same time to discuss about the meaning of love, so as I said before the question is: what is love?