Monday, January 31, 2011

Poker Face and the Problem of Other Minds

A week ago, the estimable Mr. Karplus of Sounds Like Japan fame posted a rather addicting "mashup" of the top 25 pop songs of 2009. In a successful attempt to procrastinate reading some math, I embarked to watch the music videos for each of these songs. Through this process I came to two realizations; firstly, as addicting as some pop music is, some is either musically or substantially (ie relating to its content) unpalatable; secondly, there are some interesting concepts to be explored.

Music tends to evocative, rather than expository, communication, by which I mean songs tend to communicate by inspiring the listener, rather than rationally detailing their message as a philosophical or mathematical argument would. Due to this, I will be giving myself license to interpret the song as it relates to me, instead of claiming to explain something inherent to the music. If you appreciate music qua music, that is, the musicality of music, you should check out Sounds Like Japan, Tim knows his stuff!

As you might imagine from the title, I am going to begin by examining Lady Gaga's song "Poker Face." Let me make clear from the beginning that I do NOT wholeheartedly endorse the message of this song! That said, what is the essential message of this song?

I find that choruses are a good place to begin the search for the overall purpose of a song. Because it is repeated throughout the song, the message in the chorus ties the various parts of the song together. In "Poker Face," the chorus is as follows:
"Can't read my,
Can't read my
No he can't read-a my poker face
(she’s got to love nobody)"
My interpretation is that this song is narrated by a woman who avoids emotional investment in her romantic relationship because her partner cannot discern her true detachment behind her "poker face." However, I do not think that this is a very satisfied woman.

The line of the song that I find most objectionable is, "And baby when it's love if its not rough it isn't fun." My main problem with this message is that it normalizes force in the context of a romantic relationship, something I find abhorrent. While, rationally, I recognize that each couple defines their manner of interrelation within the context of their personal relationship, our society has such deep issues with domestic and relationship violence that it hardly seems necessary to glorify it in song.

The reason that I mention that line is that I find it indicative of the self-destructive behavior the unhappy narrator is displaying. Further supporting this interpretation is the previous line, "Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun." If that doesn't seem self destructive, I don't know what would. The question then becomes why is the narrator, despite the freedom implied by, "she has got to love nobody," so despondent?

My interpretation is that the depression results from being unloved, despite being in a romantic relationship. The chorus makes clear that she considers some essential part of herself unknown to her partner. In such a situation, one must doubt whether he really loves her, because she believes that he doesn't really know her, because he cannot read her poker face, that is, know her most private reflections.

This leads us to the problem of other minds. While each of us has uniquely privileged access to our own minds, we can neither access the mind of another on such an effortlessly deep level, nor easily share our own inner workings. Thus, one of the greatest wonders and joys of living is the continual sharing of ourself with others and being trusted by others who attempt to share themselves with us.

One of my favorite YA authors, John Green, coined the term, "imagining each other complexly," to describe this process. Imagining is an appropriate term, given that our impression of someone else is forever trapped within our own mind, but the joy and hope of the phrase comes from the word complexly. We seek to know our partner not as they exist-for-us, by which I mean as we want them to be, but as they exist-for-them-self, to borrow a distinction from my man Emmanuel Kant. To quote John Green in this video, where he is quoting Ze Frank, "we want to feel what it's like to be other people, and let other people feel what it's like to be us." While this was said specifically in relation to why YouTube users make videos, I think it applies to why we write blogs, write music, risk ourselves in the hope of love, and why we walk out into society each day in spite of the often alienating nature of the world in which we live.

To finish with "Poker Face," while the narrator "has got to love nobody," she also has got nobody to love, nor is she loved in return, at least not in a complex notion of the word. While the song starts out in an ominous tone, by the end the chorus sounds distinctly like a lament. I believe the narrator would welcome exchanging the risks of basing a relationship on emotional deception for the true risks involved in an emotionally vulnerable relationship based in open honesty.

Let me conclude by noting that this is a good example of the value that philosophical reflection has to the "layperson." Personally I think "Poker Face" is a wonderful and catchy song, but consumption of its message without critical reflection seems, in some sense, dangerous. With reflection one can both enjoy a driving, compelling, mournful song and attempt to come to grips with some of the problems that seem essential to being a human.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I am irritated every time I have to enter a Captcha code to comment on a blog. After all, I know that I am human! Also, I sometimes forget to do the Captcha then don't comment. This is why my blog, currently, does not require a Captcha.

However, I do get a fair amount of SpamBot generated commenting. This isn't something I mind much, Blogger is fairly good about recognizing it and quarantining it, so I don't even need to delete it. I am disappointed to see an E-mail about a comment, then realize there is nothing personal and interesting in the comment. Since I encourage people to subscribe to the comment thread for posts that they comment on, it occurs to me that you too might suffer disappointment when disingenious comments are made.

So, I am opening it up to your input, what do you think about Captcha requirements to post on the blog? If people make a good argument for them, I'll implement them. After all, it isn't as though I'd need to verify my own comments, I think...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Call to Grandma

Of course, those of you who know me, or just the way my mind works, must already suspect that this shall not just be about a call to my Grandmother. However, that is the departing point for this train of thought. About a week ago, I used G-mail phone to call my Grandmother's land line, for free! We chatted about my life, and her life, my weather, her weather, and hopes to see each other come next Christmas. When I hung up, I thought it would make a good Facebook status to write, "I just called my Grandma, for free!"

However, that seemed to imply that talking with Grandma was only worthwhile if it could be done for free, which is not the case at all, and I thought that I should explain. When I was a wee lad, our family had this arcane thing called a "long distance plan." To this day I do not understand all the nuances of "long distance plans," but suffice it to say they allowed landlines to call other landlines very far away, but they tended to cost a decent amount of money, and they charged per minute, so long calls to Grandma were expensive, although long calls from Grandma were not for some reason.

Fortunately cell phones came on the scene and long distance became much simpler. In fact, nowadays you can call pretty much anywhere in the US at the same rate, I think. I still don't quite know what that rate is, my ignorance to "long distance plans" translated naturally into an ignorance of telephone plans in general. This is ok though, because my sister is the only member of my immediate family who has successfully made the jump to the cell phone era. I own, and leave on my bedroom floor most of the time, a rather utilitarian cell phone for which I purchase "minutes." I understand what "minutes," are, they are simpler than a plan, and I can use these "minutes" to make or receive calls (or "texts" which I still don't understand and cannot make). The point is that, as usual, calling my Grandmother would be an expense, though one made quite willingly, as I tend to posses more "minutes" than I am likely to need.

So, being able to call my Grandmother for free and spend as long talking to her as I wanted without any notion of any financial repercussions whatsoever broke a fundamental experience in my life dating back to childhood. It isn't that calling Grandma is not worth the expense, it is how foreign to my worldview it is that there is no expense. Which got me thinking about social perceptions of what can be monetized.

For so long my calls to Grandma existed in this world of financial transactions. I give a certain amount of money and receive a specific amount of time to chat with Grandma. But now I can talk with Grandma for free, something I would imagine phone companies are not terribly pleased with. If we continue to have the ability to speak with people throughout the nation for free, I would imagine we will come to expect this ability, developing a sense of entitlement.

While the term is often used in a negative context, I do not believe that entitlement is inherrently bad. As long as we generalize from a selfish personal entitlement, "I ought to have," to a more public sense of entitlement, "we ought to have," I think entitlement is a valuable check against profiteering from basic human necessities. For example, in this nation, there is a widespread, if not uniform, feeling of public entitlement toward things like childhood education, clean water supplies, and certain rights or freedoms. We would be outraged if someone were to tell us that the right to criticize the government cost $50 for a five minute block! We may have to pay if we wish to communicate through a specific medium, radio or television for example, but we are entitled to the right to communicate against the government.

Of course, companies that sell things, such as "long distance plans," do not, in general, look favorably upon widespread feelings of entitlement to the services that they would much rather provide in exchange for money. In fact, sometimes companies attempt to control and market resources previously considered public entitlements, which is one form of privatization. While I am not saying that privatization is uniformly bad, it does take a service out of the realm of "of the people, by the people, and for the people," into the realm of "of the shareholders, by the corporate bureaucracy, for the profit."

Suppose a corporation patented a new method of transporting fresh air from one location to another. They might then attempt to charge the beneficiaries at the destination for the imported fresh air they were breathing. It would not make a difference whether you sought out the imported fresh air or were content with the classic model of air, because air intermixes so freely, undoubtedly you would be consuming the companies patented air, and they would want to charge you for the service. At this point, hopefully, your sense of entitlement is evoking in you a moral outrage that a corporation, let us call it Nomsanto, would introduce a product that was so invasive that it would displace our public entitlement to breathing air. You might even picture the poor citizens who steadfastly refused to pay Nomsanto buying breathing masks and oxygen tanks just so they could be sure they would not consume the precious, patented fresh air.

If we are outraged at Nomsanto's violation of public entitlement to fresh air, ought we not be similarly outraged at the repeated indications that a similarly named company, Monsanto, seems to be attempting to patent entire crops. While I have no problem with Genetically Engineered (GE) foods in general, when a company allegedly goes so far as to sue farmers for patent infringement if patented seed strains appear in their fields due to cross pollination, I think that we should all pay very close attention to the actions of said company. How is this essentially different than being charged for air when "private" air becomes mixed into the public air supply?

One could take this point as a motivation to discuss whether we ought to allow life to be privatized, seeing as it leads to such thorny issues with dire implications for public good. However, I think we have said quite enough for now, especially for a topic that started with a nice call to Grandma. Up to the previous paragraph, this was the thought process that considering posting about my call on Facebook started, I kid you not.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mathematics, A Eulogy?

Did you know that the area of a circle is Pi times its radius squared? Did you know the area of a triangle is one half of its base times its height? Did you know for a right triangle (a triangle with one angle of 90 degrees or pi/2 radians) the sum of the squares of the two sides adjacent to the right angle is the same as the square of the side opposite the right angle, the hypotenuse (did you know that I, a mathematician, still cannot spell hypotenuse?)? More importantly, do you know why?

Earlier today I posted a Facebook blasting the mainstream method of mathematics education. This was out of various frustrations, including my frequent interactions with people in the late stages of chronic math apathy, and conversations with colleagues on the state of our students. I have colleagues, how weird is that! Much of my despair boils down to our dogmatic adherence to a system which is fairly seriously flawed. I don't claim to have THE solution, I have thoughts that I would like to see tried out, but mostly, I want to see us have the courage and vibrancy to experiment boldly with our curriculum, changing it to try to get out of this malaise.

I believe I was unduly harsh, as math is not the only subject that suffers from some deep problems endemic to our education system. One horribly harmful practice is the passing along of students who have not sufficiently mastered current materials to higher level courses. Because math is such a rich and useful subject, attempting to understand a subject without a thorough grasp of the prerequisite courses is akin to the canonical fool attempting to build a sturdy foundation upon ground made of sand. Although factoring polynomials (mostly quadratics) and negative numbers are two fine examples of things one ought master before proceeding, as they end up in fairly frequent use, by biggest concern is fractions.

I cannot understand what part of our system so scars students that they stay scared of fractions long through their math careers. If one simply wishes to work with fractions, two simple rules suffice, common denominators to add, multiply straight across. This will not convey an understanding of the nature of fractions, but it will provide you with all the "special" tools that you need to manipulate them, they won't be things of beauty, but at least they ought no longer be feared. However, as I indicate at the end of the first paragraph, the essential point of math is NOT an isolated scattering of lifeless, lonely facts, but an intricate, intertwined network of collaborating reasons why things are true.

Were I to be given an island on which to implement my social experiments, my math curriculum would, broadly, look as follows (and mothers could keep their children...). An introduction to the positive integers, addition, and the number one. These topics are deeply connected, as you can think of one, the unit, as the starting place for all mathematics, without it there is only nothing, then addition miraculously conjures the rest of the whole numbers, as one is joined by one for two, and so forth. Here we introduce the miracle of zero, which leaves numbers unaltered Should we ever experience diminishing, as happens when one departs, we become familiar with negative numbers (not subtraction, which is a misleading myth). Now, one might find it useful to repeatedly add a number to itself, such as if students arrive on buses each carrying 32 children, 32 children after the first, 32+32 after the second, 32+32+32 after the third, and thus is multiplication formed from addition.

Now things become a little tricky, but I have faith in our citizenry to persevere. Just as zero played a special role for addition, leaving things unaltered, our unit plays the same role for multiplication. And just as the addition of -n undoes addition by n, because together they add to 0 which leaves things untouched, multiplication by 1/n undoes multiplication by n, because they multiply together to zero. Thus we run into the first fractions as reciprocals to the whole numbers, and we noticed that division too is an illusion. Consider 0*n, which we know to be n added to itself zero times, when no buses have arrived, there are no students, no matter how many are on each bus, so 0*n=0. Now suppose you are discovering this for the first time, what must you suspect about 1/0? Well, one expects multiplying by 1/0 to undo multiplication by 0, because that is the role of 1/n to undo n. So, 1/0 times 0*n should be n, no matter what n is. However, no matter what n is, 0*n always arrives at 0, so 1/0*0 needs take on more than one value to satisfy our system, since it cannot, and indeed must be 0 since anything times 0 is zero, we discover that 1/0 cannot be included in our system without breaking the patterns that we have established. Because there is no division, and n/0 is instead n*(1/0), we must conclude that, should zero occupy a denominator, we have left our reasonable system of numbers, so this is to be avoided. This has gone on long enough, but we may quickly build exponentiation from multiplication the same way we build multiplication from addition, and roots now are un-exponents, the same way negatives are un-addition and fractions are un-multiplication.

Of course, this is a bit of a mess when skated through in 2 paragraphs, rather than over the course of a year or two, but the point is that it is all interrelated. This is where the beauty of mathematics comes from, it is a mosaic, and a puzzle, and a fractal laden, dew adorned spiderweb on a cool morning. Addition and multiplication are different, not separate, and subtraction and division no longer exist, much simplifying the order of operations. Recall that these operations have the counter intuitive property that they do not commute (that is, 3-2 is not 2-3, and 2/3 is not 3/2). Since these operations no longer exist, this strange fact, an artifact of a formulaic approach to math, need no longer be considered. Now 3+(-2) and (-2)+3, as well as 2*(1/3) and (1/3)*2 can be swapped as much as is desired.

The WHY is beautiful, without it math is just an exercise in memorization and rote manipulation, two things that are fairly boring and easily done by computer. With why, math becomes a rich environment for exploring, every new piece of information not a fact, but a new piece of the puzzle which must be slotted into an awaiting rough edge. The easiest method to determine the area of a circle requires calculus, but I can prove the Pythagorean theorem on a napkin in under 5 minutes (if we are in the same place, feel free to ask me to do so, it is a beautiful proof). How amazing is that, these two facts, that we casually teach side by side in an introduction to geometry, have vastly different backgrounds and stories. Personally, I think the area of a triangle is the easiest of the three, and accordingly, I leave it as an exercise for the reader, should you be in the mood to explore. It may help to take right triangles as your point of departure, but remember that not all triangles are right triangles.

As I posted on Facebook, learning math the traditional way is akin to learning to write poetry by taking lines from the poems of the greats and sticking them next to each other in varying orders. Or, to be less absurd, it is learning about history by rote memorization of dates and events, with no thought paid to the overall correlation and causality, the beautiful, interconnected, vastness of human experience. It is learning a foreign language sentence by sentence, hardly paying heed to individual words in the phrases blindly committed to memory, let alone the system of syntax and grammar. Overall, I have to say that what is a very important question to answer, but only because you need to establish the what before you can sail off into the sunset after your elusive why's...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Philosophy for You and Me

As I have said before, although maybe not here, I think that I would be most satisfied if I left the world believing that I had made people think a bit harder about things. And by things, I mean the important things, like "what should we do," "what makes us happy," even "what does it all mean," although that isn't a favorite of mine. In short, I want people to think about what we call philosophy.

Why do I consider this to be important? Firstly, if you go through life not paying attention to it, then you have missed a great deal of your own life. I also think that in the consideration of such things, we become better people. Finally, when we look deep into ourselves, we are also learning things about all the people around us, on whom we depend daily, which further enriches our lived experience and our moral code.

However, as important as philosophy is to every person, so is every person important to philosophy. To me, philosophy isn't like math, where one needs reach some academic pinnacle in order to have some genuinely new and worthwhile insight. Philosophy is more personal, and since each of us is uniquely privileged with knowledge and insight about ourselves and our experiences, each of us has something of genuine value to contribute to the questions of humanity. Granted, I would like to believe that a formal study of philosophy provides both useful tools for our examinations, as well as valuable exercise, or practice, flexing our analytical muscles, but these are mere means, rather than the goal of philosophy.

Let me provide a quick example. I have long wondered at the unfair nature of birth in our world. So much of who we are is determined by the person or persons who raise us, including many of our socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages. To me, it seems heartbreaking that we can be so attuned to our parochial needs that we could remorselessly let the public education system to topple as long as OUR child received a good education, we could harden our hearts to the children of our workers and accumulate and accumulate until OUR child could never want for any material good. Let me also mention, on the other side of the coin, the children who are not pushed to achieve, either because their parents are apathetic or absent, and end up falling through the cracks. Granted, personal contribution does play a part in the course of a child's life, but SO much is dependent on the nature of their caregiver(s).

Since the concept of a meritocracy, or success of the competent, is so critical to our society, and seems like a rather good idea, I set out to imagine how such a thing might unfold. Since so much of our fortune, for good or for ill, is determined by our upbringing, it seemed almost laughably obvious that the most fair system would involve raising children in some communal manner, with no biological parents knowing who their progeny were so that they could not play favorites. Furthermore, since we usually desire the very best for our offspring, an ignorance to the actual identity of our child seems likely to encourage biological parents to make decisions with the general welfare in mind. For example, wealthy leaders of industry might be more inclined to see the value of social minimum standards of living if they didn't know whether their child was homeless or unemployed.

Fortunately, I shared this idea with some good friends of mine, well educated and intelligent thinkers, but not philosophers by trade. While I still feel a general goodwill towards our fellow humans should inform our actions and encourage us to seek the best for those we encounter, rather than just ourselves, I now acknowledge that this may very likely not be the right way to go about it. What one of my friends pointed out is, quite simply, mothers probably wouldn't like this. In fact, they theorized that mothers might react to this system violently, quite literally.

By contributing this viewpoint, which I had overlooked, probably due to my own general antipathy towards children, my own thought became deeper, more in line with reality. This illustrates two important points. First, we should never become so enamored of our model representing a system that we forget the original system we set out to consider. And second, we all have blind spots, and we all have contributions that can help each other out when something gets stuck in our blind spots. So come, let us do philosophy together!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Wealth of Our Nation

Today was going to be a post about talking with my grandmother, but a timely post relating to it being the observed anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth seemed appropriate. Prompting this topic change, a friend of mine from high school, whom I believe is a German currently living abroad in London, posted this article reflecting on the state of the races in public education. To sum it up, we are more segregated today than we were at the time of King's assassination, we are not doing enough to reverse this trend, and there is evidence that this is quite harmful to our education system.

Fortunately for you, my dear reader, I abhor doom and gloom calls to action. If forced to confront something horrible, say in an ad on Hulu, I am quite likely to make an internal joke about it in order to maintain my sense of self worth, such as it is, in the face of tragedy that I feel I can do nothing meaningful to ameliorate. So, rather than lament about racism in modern America, let us look at the richness that we have available to us.

It should not be news to you that the US has a long and sordid history of inter-racial interaction. To hit some lowlights, there was the acquisition of our geographical location from people who happened to already be living here, the enslavement and subsequent suppression of a rather large people group, concentration (I mean internment) camps, eugenics, and human experimentation, to list the worst ones to come to mind. However, keep in mind that our nations particularly vile history is, in big part, due to our rich diversity in people groups.

There is a correlation between how uniform a nation's population is and how much unrest it experiences. From this fact one can draw one of two conclusions, segregationists are justified and we ought try to keep races separate, or we here in the United States have a great opportunity to learn to coexist, a skill critically important as the world's far flung regions become more closely intertwined. Since I am not so much for segregation, I favor the latter.

How unique is our situation? I didn't look through the entire CIA world fact book, but here are some highlights. The UK, which appears to have a much more urbane view on racial equality, about 90% European. The data for France is less clear, since they have laws forbidding racial identification in census data, but working it out from a Wikipedia article, I estimate their European population to be at least 90% of the total. Germany is also at about 90%, as is Russia. In Sweden, that Western European socialist paradise, Swedes and Finns already make up 90% of the population between them. Consider the US, which is only 80% white, and here even the white population is more diverse than in a typical Western European nation. It is only natural that we have rockier racial relations, although this does not absolve us the responsibility to work through them.

The only other country with an 80-20 split that I found, South Africa. There was one nation that had an even smaller majority population, which was Canada. While we all no Canada is pretty much a Utopian dream state, another factor in their rather low atrocity to racial diversity ratio is their cultural view on race. Consider that, of the 34% of their population that is non-European, 26% is listed as mixed background. In the US only about 1.5% is listed as mixed background, and I seriously doubt these two numbers are measuring the same population.

In the US there has been a strong push to fit into neat categories, much to the detriment of inter-racial families, not that there weren't other factors mitigating against them. Consider our president, often called the first black president of the US. Calling him the first interracial president of the US somehow lacks the same kick in our society. Furthermore, the US census does not have a separate neat category for Latina/Latino peoples, so they tend to be in that 80% white. If one considers them to be, in some way, separate from white Americans, then it is projected that by the year 2050 whites will be a minority in the US, albeit the largest one at slightly less than 50%, but a minority nonetheless.

But wait, which nation has the low atrocity to racial diversity ratio, that's right, Canada. I think that there is much to be copied from their approach. Continuing the move away from a dichotomous classification of one's racial identity is an important step. If we cannot acknowledge that two races can equitably coexist inside one person, it seems a grim potent for their peaceful cohabitation of our nation. To take this a step further, I think that it is important to deprioritize racial affiliation. This does not mean ignoring unpleasant facts like the disproportional poverty levels in one people group over another, but rather examining if confounding factors like economic class of one's parents are better indicators than race. In short, I worry about our future if we continue to wrestle with the problem of inter-racial relations, but if we reframe the question as one of intra-humanitarian relations, keeping in mind the historic context which includes race without giving it undue significance, then I think we can forge ahead to a better future.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Arrogance of Logic

"Love is reckless in giving away, oblivious as to what it gets in return." -Gandhi

The above quote comes from the reading for our second philosophy seminar, it is my favorite sentence in a while. This post is about a spin-off thought from our first philosophy seminar meeting. For the first week we read a bit of Hobbes and Rousseau, the exact content is not integral to this thought. One thing that the professor pointed out to us was that, when establishing his view of the origin of human society, Rousseau criticized Hobbes' alternative construction for assuming that the specific modes of thought and action prevalent in Hobbes' time were indeed universal human norms, independent of time and context.

One of the things that I most appreciated about Hobbes' work was his adherence to sound, rational thinking throughout most of his argument. However, thinking about this near when I thought about my professor's point, it occurred to me to wonder, is our (my?) belief in the use and universality of logic a reflection of logic actually being useful and universal, or more a reflection of the context of my upbringing? As a citizen of a technologically advanced nation, as an academic, and especially as a mathematician/philosopher by training, reason plays a huge role in my interpretation of information and my general outlook on life. In light of this, it would be hard to conclude that my appreciation of it was independent of my life being steeped in it, something that is hardly true of many, both those living today and especially those from pre-Enlightenment historical periods.

Reason is not the only source of guidance which we have available. Many rely on methods such as intuition, emotion, or spirituality to reach their decisions. Although it is beyond me to know if these are separate paths, or aspects of the same, it is fairly clear that they often produce non-logical, or even illogical, results. Furthermore, I, the self-proclaimed champion of reason, often make use of all of these sources to influence my daily choices, significant and trivial. I cannot even argue that reason provides the best results, there being no evidence to support this and even the term 'best' implies some non-logical ranking to outcomes. While reason may provide the best method to accurately predict the outcome of various actions, at least for a small time into the future, we should not confuse prediction with either control or desirability.

Personally, I am leaning toward attempting to use reason to clarify or implement decisions that originate through other thought processes than pure logic. I think it is important to recognize the importance of these illogical sources, but at the same time, the only chance we get to truly affect our lives is through consideration of our actions and their desired/expected consequences. This, to me, is the essence of the old saying, "an unreflected life is not worth living." I welcome your thoughts on the importance of logic, both in one's personal life and in historical perspective.

I'm In Ur Facebookz

Appearing in ur newsfeedz! I have been conflicted about using my status to announce new blog posts, although you probably came here from Facebook, so must realize that at the moment I am announcing them. In fact, I plan on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future, and here is my thoughts on the quandary.

The two big reasons that I am hesitant to spam Facebook about my little ol' blog are that it seems arrogant and impolite. Arrogant because it seems like I am announcing how worthwhile my blog is, when in fact I am quite unsure that it is worthwhile. Impolite because it feels like I am barging into your newsfeed unasked, invading your space in order to promote my own agenda, which seems to be cutting too close to violating Kant's categorical imperative, that we ought always treat others as beings with their own complex desires and needs, rather than only as a conduit through which we might achieve a desired goal. Furthermore, it seems slightly high-handed to assume that you want regular updates on my blog posts, when there exist some easy tools to receive exactly these updates, such as RSS feeds and E-mail, which don't involve me cluttering your Facebook.

Of course, one might argue that there is the mitigating fact that I am posting to my Facebook, which is an area of the web that I nominally control, and might be considered mine to do with as I will. I believe this is an oversimplification as, although my statuses are just that, my own, due to the system that Facebook uses, they routinely travel out to appear in your newsfeeds, a place that I would consider either yours, or at least public commons. An analogous situation might be a CD player that I own, although it is my personal possession, allowing me some freedom in what it plays, since the sound may travel out to the public, or even into the personal space of others, I have an obvious responsibility to consider their needs when making musical selections.

Since I posted on Facebook, you might imagine that there are better reasons for it than a mistaken belief that my Facebook page is part of my own petty, little kingdom. The biggest argument in favor is how glad I am to see my sister's statuses, informing me of her new posts. These help me realize that I am imagining that others view my actions much differently than I view similar actions when they are taken by others. In truth, I am always excited to read her new thoughts, and welcome the Facebook update, despite the fact that she is also in my RSS feed (located two the right under the title Inside Out); sometimes I miss seeing updates there, and another reminder is welcome. Indeed, not everyone knows how to set up an RSS... thingy (I only know, barely, because Blogger will do it for me). Finally, I do think that this blog is worthwhile, otherwise I would hardly put my time into it. Perhaps my thoughts or stylings are not terribly inspirational, but it serves as a location for me to engage in the exchange of ideas with friends new and old, and certainly that is worth something.

So, here are some things that you can expect (hope for...) to see from my blog. Updates about posts on Facebook, at least until I feel self-conscious and stop again. More frequent updates, although maybe not on a regulated schedule. As you may know, I am taking a philosophy course this semester, to save my sanity, and I think it would be nice to share thoughts that it inspires. On a related note, I am making a conscious effort to keep my terminology more widely accessible. My sister noted that sometimes my thought process is hard to follow as I assume the reader has the knowledge of someone who has studied a significant amount of philosophy. Since I want all to participate, and I think everyone will get more out of the posts if they feel more like a friendly discussion, rather than a lecture from a pompous "expert," this must change. Finally, if you would like to know when I update, through a method such as RSS or E-mail, let me know somehow and I will try to figure out how to make that work for you.

One last change that I am considering making but nowhere near to implementing is making this a collaborative blog with other authors. As I mentioned, I think that intellectual engagement is best achieved when ideas are developed collaboratively, rather than combatatively (as is often the mode of academics) or unilaterally (coming up with ideas on your own, or imprinting your ideas on a passive audience in the manner of a heavy handed lecture, something of which I am occasionally guilty). I have no idea with whom I would collaborate, nor the specifics of such a partnership, but if you have an interest feel free to let me know somehow.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Simply Living

For those of you unfamiliar with my sister's blog, you really should be there, she has much more profound things to say. Recently she has been attempting to live in a very sustainable manner, which she calls "living simply," for religious and pragmatic reasons. Her first post of the New Year is a simple piece on what she appreciates about living simply. For those of you who are curious, previous posts provide additional information about specific changes that she has made, and there is a tasty cookie recipe as well, bonus!

I have been wanting to write something inspirational to kick off the new year, but have not had any idea what to say to that effect. Thus, I direct you to my sister's blog, which I find much more inspiring, and shall write a little in response.

While visiting Oregon, I have been staying with my sister, so I have had a fair bit of immersion into her simpler living. Personally, my lifestyle tends towards the simplistic; most of that is intended to keep my stress at manageable levels rather than out of altruistic motives, and I tend to draw the line at making my life more complicated in an attempt to simplify it, as attempting to bake my own bread seems like it would inevitably do. That said, I can vouch that simple living is not an unpleasant experience at all.

For myself however, I shall concentrate on simply living. My sister sometimes seems more mature than I, and, in this case, I think that she has figured out what she wants out of life a bit quicker than I. This facilitates tweaks, albeit drastic, time consuming, and impressive, to lifestyle. Fortunately, although I am still searching for something that feels right, there are good times along the way. So, may your year be simple and contain the occasional moment of joy!