Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wise, Ruskin, Veblen

I watched Tim Wise: On White Privilege and was reminded of a book I read five years ago: Unto This Last, by John Ruskin.  Then I encountered some interesting references to Veblen goods when I saw an interview on the Newshour with Robert Frank about his new book The Darwin Economy.  As anyone familiar with Veblen goods knows, it has similarities to sexual selection. 

Why did Tim Wise catch my attention?  Anything that dehumanizes people, via prejudice or objectification, bothers me.  Emily Nagoski gave a good definition of objectification:  decreased perceived agency.  Anything that is contrived, coerced, uncomfortable, artificial, inconvenienced, unwilling, non-consensual, non-participatory, or in any way unnatural is probably, at least in part, the result of objectification.  Not always bad, but worth the introspection to discern. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The mortal illusion?

Is there free will?  Morality?  Or even hope (in an Absurdist sense)?  Is the mind anything more than a machine?  Several prominent writers have suggested no to each of these questions.  If it hasn't already occurred, there may be some notions of "emergence" and "irreducible complexity" that will probably also be found empty and illusory.  Daniel Dennett is one writer who would agree, since he takes a deflationary approach to the hard problem of consciousness.  Opposed to this is John Searle, who is "anti-deflationary".  (Searle famously illustrated his perspective with the "Chinese Room" argument.)

Life is often characterized as having emergent properties, but if the same physical laws can be used to describe life and death equally well, where lies any fundamental distinction?  Before anyone cries foul, I am aware that there are relative truths and there are absolute truths (a Buddhist notion) and each should carry equal weight.  But wouldn't the distinction between life and death lie in the former category?  It is a notion that has served humans well throughout evolution as we struggled to survive in the forests and savannas, and now the concrete jungles.  But we know that living organisms can be reduced to "non-living" components and scaled back up again to living organisms.  Each state seamlessly emerges from and returns to the other.  Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.

If the difference between life and death is an illusion, it would be the greatest illusion of mankind.  It is certainly already the source of our greatest fears.  But Lucretius first made the point: when an organism dissolves with its body, nothing is essentially lost in any permanent sense.  To which I would add: love recognizes a common origin and destiny. 

See also: emergentism, supervenience

Witricity assisted cycling?

About a year ago I heard that Ecospeed was a great product for converting an EZ-3 recumbent trike to electric power assist.  Now Lightfoot, a recumbent cycle maker, has partnered with Ecospeed and is offering their models with Ecospeed options.  I would love to try one of these out.  Better yet, I would love to combine an Ecospeed equipped cycle with the technology developed by Witricity for unlimited electric power assist!  Why not charge electric bikes as they run along bike paths?  Although possible, for a variety of other reasons that day is probably a long way off.  Until then, this is the coolest thing I could do for my BikeE AT.