Monday, November 30, 2009


In my ancient philosophy class a few weeks ago, the guy who sits behind me was complaining about how Socrates questions everyone, but never really provides anything of his own.  He wasn't so much complaining that Socrates doesn't enlighten us, as Socrates claims to know very little himself.  He seemed to be annoyed with the skeptic outlook one might get from questioning everything.  I was just wondering, at what point is it okay for this guy to accept lies, just so he can believe in something.  The contradictions Socrates points at in people's belief systems were there before he showed them, they were just overlooked.  I came across a quote just now on neurologicablog which I think sums up Socrates' attitude on this fairly well. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
- Carl Sagan

Sagan was, I'm sure, talking about science, where Socrates is more interested in ethical matters, the nature of virtue and all, but the principle still holds.  It's interesting majoring in chemistry, and minoring in philosophy.  There is a link between the two, or more generally between science and philosophy, as both look for answers about how the world really is, beyond superficial appearances.  That physics (all physical science, including chemistry and biology) was once a branch of philosophy (hence the PhD in Chemistry, Biology, Physics) is more and more evident after studying both for a while. 

In philosophy, even more than hard science, it seems that there are a lot of questions without answers, maybe because there are no tests which can be derived to test many philosophical theories, just logical inquiry.  I think it's interesting though, how many things in hard science that we take as known are just as unknown, and as science moves along, yesterdays facts and truths become laughable.  Very few people still believe the world is flat.  Atomic models have gone through a number of vast overhauls as the previous model was found to be flawed.  Newtonian physics have given way to quantum mechanics.  The more we know, the more we realize how much more there is we don't know.  Socrates' skepticism seems more validated as he says he is the wisest only because he knows that he knows nothing. 
In a related thread, I came across one of those tables during a campus fair with a few students pushing their particular views.  This one was a group  pushing secular humanitarianism.  They believed that God was not necessary as a base for ethics, in fact that there was no God, and that acting for the greatest good of humanity was a natural logical outcome of ethical inquiry.  They also thought they were skeptics. 
I was interested in them at first, as secular humanitarianism sounds like a good thing.  When I started studying philosophy I was hoping to find a logical base for ethics, rather than a religious one.  I have no problem with religion.  I just thought it would be good to have a base to argue from with others who don't share my faith, or maybe at times to reason through something myself when my own faith is lacking.  This is not what they were offering here.  They were yet another group of atheists, pretending that a lack of proof of God is the same as proof of a lack of God.  If you wanted in on their group, you didn't just need a secular belief in humanitarianism, but an atheist one. 
So, there were two counts where they failed to be skeptic.  First skepticism does not lead to atheism, but agnosticism, the belief that one can not have knowledge proving or disproving the existence of God.  I'm alright with this as I believe (not know) that there is a God, and that he remains voluntarily unproven as there is no faith where there is knowledge (rather than remaining unproven because he is not real).  Second, skepticism does not lead to any ethical stance.  I was initially depressed to find this, but any ethical theory I have heard of studied so far begins with an assumption.  That it is good (ethically) to act for the benefit of others, is an assumption.  That pleasure is good (ethically), is an assumption.  I find comfort anymore in the idea that the knowledge of good and evil can not be determined empirically.  Any ethical system, like a physical (scientific) system, is an imperfect model based on perception reality, reality is never based on the model. 
I think the comfort of skepticism comes when you take it as absolute, and understand that as you don't really know anything.  Further, you know that no one else knows anything either.  This humility relieves you of the burden of knowing reality even as you keep searching to. 

Monday, August 17, 2009

I just had an interesting text conversation with someone I don't know. Interesting because she seemed just a bit slow. Had to put it up here.

NL: Hey its natalie long i just have a question

Me: What's that? And who are you?

NL: Natalie tays friend

Me: I don't think I know a tay. This is Michael, is that who you're trying to reach?

NL: No isnt this misha

Me: Nope.

NL: Oh sorry

Me: No problem.

NL: Wait do you know mischa and who is this

Me: This is michael, and misha who? I know a misha.

NL: Vicknair

Me: Nope. Don't know them.

NL: Sure cause taylor says its you

Me: Nope. Don't think I know Taylor either.

NL: Uh k

NL: you just texted taylor lol and said your not texting me

Me: I didn't text Taylor. I don't know Taylor. You want to just ask your question?

NL: Yeah what school do you go to and whats your last name

Me: If you don't know, I'm not telling.

NL: Fine bye

Like I said, don't know her. I would have been a bit more terse with her, but MJ and I were having a good laugh at her expense, and hey, free texting.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hear the word of the gods, don't forget it...

I found this code generator for The Battle of Olympus at It doesn't work so well in internet explorer, but it works in firefox. The codes for this game were always a pain to copy down. I've been playing on an emulator recently, so it's not really an issue as I can save by hitting a button, but if anyone (Frik) plans to play this game on the console at any time, and you mis-copy the word of the gods, just go to the site, check the boxes for what you've done already (be honest) and copy down the word.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mood Fixer

I find myself busy with a lot of uninteresting things, so I haven't been blogging much it seems. My last post is getting a bit stale, so time for this.

I was in a sort of bad mood, browsing through my emails and blogs, and I came across this gem on within the crainium (intentionally spelled that way).

Can't be in a bad mood now.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I don't know who comes up with these ideas. I like it though.

I'm at school, just before my last class. It's the lab for analytical chem, which I would be done with by now, but the results I got from this latest experiment were not close enough to the actual value, so instead of getting out by quarter after eleven, I'm done at four fifty. It took me three weeks to get everything done last time, but I'm hoping to get it all done between this week and the next. We'll see how that goes. On the bright side, I had a minute between my last class and lab, to check blogs and internets after getting lunch and going over some stuff for lab. I could have missed out on Poohstein.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Knowlege of Good and Evil

So, I've been studying ethics for almost two years now, and it makes you think.

First though, as the ethics bit is going to be a little long, two things:

1. I saw an SUV today with "I love my wife" written on the back and rear side windows. My first thought was that it was really sweet. My second, was that I wondered if he's just trying to get out of trouble, and what he might be in trouble for.

2. Too bad about heaven's defense going down. I understand, and I'm hardly one to criticize anyone's blogging, but it was always an interesting read. If you're still reading other's blogs, Berserk, you should know my mother-in-law is going to miss yours.

Anyway, ethics. For anyone who doesn't know, I'm planning on going to medical school after I finish my BA. My major is chemistry, and I'm minoring in philosophy. I have I have about a year left for my degree, including two more classes before I'm done with my minor, and with the exception of Language Logic and Persuasion, all my philosophy classes have been largely about what is good, what does it mean to live a good life, and how can we judge between right and wrong. This semester, I'm taking Ethical Theories, which is no exception. There are a lot of ideas of a lot of famous dead guys about the good, but although some claim to, no one really seems to answer the question, "what is good?"

We don't go over them much, except a quick mention, but there are ideas that good is not real, but just more of a loose code that helps populations function as a coherent society, or that good is just something that those in power use to keep those under them in line. In reality there is no such thing as right or wrong. I can't really get behind any of those lines of thought. I don't have a solid reason, but it seems wrong. I would like to believe that good exists. Even allowing that assumption though (and I'm not sure why an assumption should be allowed), it's not clear what good is.

Some theories are subjectivist. Good is subject to the beliefs of the majority, or to individual preference. You would say that murder is wrong because the majority believes it's wrong, or that taking care of one's children is good because you feel good when you do it. The problem with subjectivism is that by definition it is subject to the group or individual. What is good can vary from group to group, individual to individual, or moment to moment. If good is subjective, then really there is no good. There are only preferences.

An interesting division of subjectivism is religious subjectivism where good is subject to the will of the divine, and good and evil are defined by the decrees of divinity. As a religious man I can appreciate the idea that God gives directions or commands which it is right to follow, but I can't get behind the subjectivist idea that good can be defined as what is loved by God. In Plato's Euthyphro, when confronted with the theory that what is good is what is loved by the gods, Socrates asks whether it is good because it is loved by the gods, or it is loved by the gods because it is good. The answer Plato leads to, which I agree with is that the good must exist independently, and logically prior to God's love of it.

So, if the good exists, and is not subjective, it must be something objective, and real, although possibly abstract or indefinable. Objectivists though can only seem to dance around this "good" thing, without really saying what it is. In Principia Ethica, G. E. Moore said, "Good is good, and that is the end of the matter," before going on for a whole book attempting to explain what good was. In Plato's Republic, Socrates says that it is impossible to explain what good is, but he makes an interesting comparison between good and the sun, where as the sun (or light) is the source of sight, but it is not the eye or the object being seen, good is the source of understanding although it is not the mind, or the thing that is understood (try to explain what something is without explaining what it is good for). Also, as the sun is evident to everyone yet cannot be looked at directly, goodness is evident to everyone, yet cannot be directly examined.

Socrates believed that everyone was motivated by a desire to do good (which is not the same as saying that good can be defined by desire). People who did wrong just had a misunderstanding of what was good, or a poor judgement between which of two goods was greater. Socrates didn't believe that evil existed so much as things that were less good existed, similar to the physical concept that darkness and cold do not exist, just less light or less heat.

Of course, while these ideas are interesting, they don't do much to answer questions about what actions are right or wrong.

So, the reason I'm putting all this into such a long post, is that I'm curious what any of you think about this. Is good something that is real? Is there any way to tell what is right and wrong? Is it a waste of time to even try to figure any of this out?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ever want to beat someone?

Just a quick one here.  I saw a guy at school today with a shirt that just made me want to beat the crap out of him.  On the back was a picture of a stick-man dropping a star of david in a wastebasket, and the caption said, "Keep Palestine Clean."  I may not be Jewish or anything, but I'd like to kick the guy in the nuts anyway. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dr. Phil?

So I was reading over one of those fun surveys that makes its way around emails/blogs/phones. I don't fill them out except under extreme circumstances, and I generally don't read more than the first couple of lines. This one was my wife's, so I at least skimmed the whole thing. I have to say it worries me just a little that the person she would most like to meet is Dr. Phil, and that she would be on the show if she had something good enough. Eww. I'm comfortable enough to sit and watch most episodes of Phil (Not Oprah, Wudan, that's all you), but being on the show, no way. So, MJ, don't get your hopes too high.

This semester's going pretty well. Calculus was a bit rough starting off. There's just so much math from other classes that I either took too long ago, or tested out of, so it's taking a bit to get back into things. It's going alright now. Chemistry and Ethics are just a bit on the challenging side, which is good. Biology on the other hand, is entirely to elementary. After the third week I thought it was picking up, as we were talking about various proteins involved in intracellular structure. Then it went back to old old review material about phospholipid cell membranes. I've gone over most of the stuff we talk about in biology in four previous classes. The worst was yet another explanation about the periodic table of elements, and electron configuration. I'm sure we'll get to some new stuff in a bit, but wow.

Everything else is going pretty well though. My son has a fourth tooth, so two up and two down now. And, I'm looking forward to Valentines Day tonight. MJ and I have been doing a nice steak dinner at home since the Valentines Day before we were married, and Its much nicer than heading out to some restaurant (however nice) and putting up with a three hour wait (if not just a bit longer), like I've done in the past. Hope everyone else has a good holiday too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Climbing Again

MJ and I have been hitting the climbing gym a little more lately. It's been good to get back into it a bit, but I've got a little way to go to be back where I was. I can climb 5.8 reliably already, but nothing more than that. I used to be able to do a 5.9 no problem. Last night we did a little in the bouldering cave too. I got part way up a couple of problems, but not to the end before my arm was just too tight to move. I walked around for a while afterward doing that whole hook/claw hand thing until I could work the muscle loose a little bit. MJ is pretty good at helping out with that though with her massage background. Anyway, climbing is one hobby I'd recommend to just about anyone. If any of you want to try it and need a quick lesson on the ropes and techniques, I'd be glad to help you out (Of course if you want all kinds of advanced stuff maybe you just go talk to Sarah instead).

By the way, Berserk, I came across an interesting case from New York. I bet this is one arrest you've never had to make.

Suddenly I don't look like such a jerk for blowing off so many sales pitches and being so skeptical about other people.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Small Lesson

Did you know a spider can live underwater, clinging to the side of a glass for the time it takes to drink a large glass of water, and then crawl off of your finger after you find what you thought was a dead bug stuck on the inside of the glass and wipe it off? I know that now.

Happy New Year!

Okay, happy January 5th!

New Year's eve was good. I spent it walking around on a frozen lake looking for hurt people. We actually found two this time that I got to work with closely. In a year of working with the venturing crew, this is two more than I've ever been able to help. It's usually a bit slow. More importantly, I met a guy from crew who doesn't normally go to anything. He does some hiring for an ambulance company. It's all volunteer, except for their paramedics, but it should be good experience. I should be able to get some good training, and experience along the lines of a couple calls a night. They should be pretty good calls, as they work along a section of I-70, and do some mountain rescues. It's a little far of a drive to get there, but it should be worth it, and I should be able to keep up with it once school starts as well.

So, speaking of mountain rescues, here's a guy who should be needing one before his next birthday.

Scariest Hiking Trail In The World - Watch more Free Videos

If you watched that whole thing without at some point thinking this guy's crazy, or feeling something flipping in your gut as he aimed the camera down, you may need some professional help. Nice video though.