Monday, February 21, 2005

Religious Joke

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi are walking down the street. They discuss, together, the various traditions and beliefs of their different religions. Each leaves with a greater respect for the others and a deeper understanding of the world.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Response to Science vs. Romance Part II

I could be wrong, but it seems that describing our cognitive and conscious processes as "software" (i.e. Hilary Putnam's version of functionalism) has the possibility of eerily taking on the egoitism of the 15th century Catholic Church. It not only elevates "human software" above any other possible version, but also has positioned itself as a relevant theory of mind. The chauvanistic aspects can easily be fixed. When we discover another version (say from Martians or any other relevant lifeform), we (or the beings who posses it) can praise it's/ their own complexity and then re-develop theories describing it's place in a greater metaphysical system. Yet the tendency to eternalize one's vision of truth and their place within this truth, is a ridiculous tendency and also has been proven a condition of humanity. It is therefore unfair to ascribe any tendencies to extraordinary 'software' that may have nothing to do with our own.

It is widely known that the "software" hypothesis is a relevant theory of mind. Turing machines (both non-deterministic and deterministic) and their conceptual consequences allow us to philosophically develop this hypothesis and account for each step with probable certainty. Yet the biggest criticism of "software" or functional theories of mind come from the consideration of phenomenological arguments. Phenomenology attempts to deal with the immediacy of being. Many object to functional theories of mind because it has no capability to describe qualia (properties of sense experience). In other words, no "software" can account for explaining the direct experience of existence within the software program. The "how it feels" argument is crucial because we wouldn't be to the point of establishing theories of mind unless the mind itself caused us to feel. Software may be able to explain inputs and outputs and their causal relations, but the fact that it has no account of the qualitative aspects of consciousness is a major blow due to the fact that this same qualitative aspects give rise to the discussion in the first place. To prove itself, functionalism ("software" theory) has to say that qualitative aspects don't exist. But, as I stated earlier, it can't say this, because the qualitative feeling itself brought us to the question at hand.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Postmodern Thought

Here are a few cool links, the first is Jean Francois Lyotards, The Postmodern Condition and the second is a Wikipedia explanation of the Student revolutions of France in the 19th Century.

Germany 1840s

This is a description of Berlin in the 1840's as Friedrich Schelling was brought in by Friedrich IV's culture of Minister to quell the 'intellectual uprising' caused by Hegel's Philosophy of Sprit. Schelling was really the last Classical philosopher in Germany and the church/government were becoming fed up with the "young Hegelians" who were advocating for a break with established religion. Hegel's mentor, Johann Fichte was "dismissed" from his position at the University of Jena for heresy, 30 years earlier.

"Ask anybody in Berlin today on what field the battle for dominion over German public opinion in politics and religion, that is, over Germany itself, is being fought, and if he has any idea of the power of the mind over the world he will reply that this battlefield is the University, in particular Lecture Hall No. 6, where Schelling is giving his lectures on the Philosophy of Revelation. For at the moment all the separate oppositions which contend with Hegel's philosophy for this dominion are obscured, blurred and pushed into the background by the one opposition of Schelling; all the attackers who stand outside philosophy, Stahl, Hengstenberg, Neander, are making way for a fighter who is expected to give battle to the unconquered on his own ground. And the battle is indeed peculiar enough. Two old friends of younger days, room mates at the Tübingen theological seminary, are after forty years meeting each other again face to face as opponents; one of them ten years dead but more alive than ever in his pupils; the other, as the latter say, intellectually dead for three decades, but now suddenly claiming for himself the full power and authority of life. Anybody who is sufficiently "impartial" to profess himself equally alien to both, that is, to be no Hegelian, for surely nobody can as yet declare himself on the side of Schelling after the few words he has said - anybody then, who possesses this vaunted advantage of "impartiality" will see in the declaration of Hegel's death pronounced by Schelling's appearance in Berlin, the vengeance of the gods for the declaration of Schelling's death which Hegel himself pronounced in his time. ‘An imposing, colourful audience has assembled to witness the battle. At the front the notables of the University, the leading lights of science, men everyone of whom has created a trend of his own; for them the seats nearest to the rostrum have been reserved, and behind them, jumbled together as chance brought them to the hall, representatives of all walks of life, nations, and religious beliefs. In the midst of high-spirited youths there sits here and there a grey-breaded staff officer and next to him perhaps, quite unembarrassed, a volunteer who in any other society would not know what to do for reverence towards such a high-ranking superior. Old doctors and ecclesiastics, the jubilee of whose matriculation can soon be celebrated feel the long-forgotten student haunting their minds again and are back in college. Judaism and Islam want to see what Christian revelation is all about: German, French, English, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, modern Greek and Turkish, one can hear them all spoken together, - then the signal for silence sounds and Schelling mounts the rostrum."

Resist the Slide

Hi, I'm Nathan.

I hate Microsoft PowerPoint. If I had the sociological evidence I would say it is ruining our entire academic system, but I can say this: It's played a big role in ruining my education. As the slides click by and the class's eyes glaze over, I can't help but wonder, "Is this progress?" I guess the professors use it because they think it makes teaching easier. They can explain the inner workings of a complex idea without having to draw it on the chalkboard. Their notes are displayed for all to see, so that everyone can follow along and download the slides after class... no more note-taking. But for me, this is missing the point. In illustrating an idea on the blackboard, the professor's mind must fully reenact every idea expressed; they must construct a logical flow, one idea following another, with each image they draw and idea they articulate related to the next. It's a difficult task. It takes a lot of preparation, and writing on the blackboard is slow, so figures and examples must be carefully chosen and explained. Yet the difficulties of these "analog" activities are not due to a lack of technology, but to limitations inherent in the learning process itself. The bottleneck is not in the speed at which information can be scrawled on the board but the speed at which that information can be absorbed by students. Do we actually believe that students can learn faster than the experts that are teaching them can write? The articulation of raw data into knowledge, the presentation of ideas in a form optimized for human reception, is the essence of lecture. There's never been a shortage of the resources provided in these slideshows, of graphs and diagrams and laundry-listed theorems. Just open any textbook and you will find endless pages of such information, formatted and explained far more professionally than any amateur slide presentation. But it's all static. You can't follow along as these theorems are proven step by step. Inflating this same static information to fill a classroom wall and pointing at it with a laser beam doesn't solve this problem. With the illusion of structure provided by the ordering of slides, it's easy for the professor to believe that real material is being covered, but an idea displayed all too often fails to result in an idea relayed. The mechanized torrent gives my lectures a rapid pace but a strangely shallow quality, like skimming a novel the night before it's due. They become lifeless and painfully boring, further intensifying the disconnect. It may run counter to our buzzword-enamored academic culture, but this is one beleaguered college senior with a desperate appeal: Get technology out of the classroom. Next time I want to learn by reading, I prefer to turn the pages myself.