Tag Archives: philosophy

Dr. Slammy’s Law of Social Communication

This came to me just now in an e-mail exchange with our friend John Harvin. So, tell me – am I onto something? Has this already been said?

In any public communication system where access is generally open, noise tends to expand at an exponential rate while the expansion of signal is merely additive.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine why this would occur to me…

Is a GED better than a PhD?

I come from a family background that was conflicted on the question of education. On the one hand, my grandparents (who raised me from the time I was three) realized that whatever hope I was to have of a better life than they’d had hinged on school. As such, there was never a moment in my life, once I was old enough to grasp the concept of what school was, when I didn’t simply assume that I’d go to college.

Growing up, I understood that learning came first. My grandmother taught me to read when I was four, and by the time I entered first grade I was reading on the fourth grade level, at least. My grandfather taught me math, and when I was five I could do fairly complicated problem strings that included long division. If there was homework to do, that came before play, and it was made clear that if my grades ever slipped, I wouldn’t be allowed to play sports at all. If I made an A they were happy. If I made an A- they were rather pointed in wanting to know what had gone wrong. Bs were unacceptable, and if I’d made a C I simply wouldn’t have gone home. Read more

Chaos, Complexity, Kant and Mill

One of the great debates in the field of ethics centers around the thinking of Emmanuel Kant vs. the Utilitarians – most notably John Stuart Mill. To simplify, Kant’s philosophy suggests that the means justify the ends: we should always do the right thing and trust the results to work out for themselves. Mill, on the other hand, argued that we should do what produced the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, and that the ends justified the means.

I’ve always tried to do the right and moral thing, of course, but when push comes to shove I’ve been an unapologetic utilitarian. I might, in my brasher moments, have put it this way: what matters is the outcome, the result, and doing the noble thing when it leads to a tragic result isn’t ethical, it’s both immoral and stupid. Read more

LIFE and the long view: ideologies of science and technology since the Enlightenment

Part two in a series.

As I suggested in Part One, the messianic/utopian view of science and technology attributed to LIFE Magazine is consistent with an ideological bent that traces its lineage to the dawn of the Enlightenment in Europe.

Francis Bacon’s highly influential New Atlantis, first published in 1626, recounts the narrator’s fictional shipwreck on the shores of Bensalem, a lost utopia, and offers one of the earliest testaments to the potential of applied science (Outhwaite & Bottomore 1994). In an extended ceremony, Bacon is given to know the seemingly limitless bounty of Bensalem’s scientific expertise. Bensalem is well versed in all manner of advanced technology: refrigeration and preservation, mining, agriculture, astronomy, meteorology, genetics, animal husbandry, desalination, medicine, musicology, mechanics, air flight, and mathematics are literally only a few of the society’s advanced technological arts. Read more