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TotD: Ray Kurzweil on Change

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Thought of the Day | Posted on 03-09-2008

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Ray Kurzweil, The Sin­gu­lar­i­ty is Near: When Humans Tran­scend Biol­o­gy

Cen­turies ago peo­ple didn’t think that the world was chang­ing at all. Their grand­par­ents had the same lives that they did, and they expect­ed their grand­chil­dren would do the same, and that expec­ta­tion was large­ly ful­filled.

Today it’s an axiom that life is chang­ing and that tech­nol­o­gy is affect­ing the nature of soci­ety. What’s not ful­ly under­stood is that the pace of change is itself accel­er­at­ing, and the last 20 years are not a good guide to the next 20 years. We’re dou­bling the par­a­digm shift rate, the rate of progress, every decade.

The whole 20th cen­tu­ry was like 25 years of change at today’s rate of change. In the next 25 years we’ll make four times the progress you saw in the 20th cen­tu­ry. And we’ll make 20,000 years of progress in the 21st cen­tu­ry, which is almost a thou­sand times more tech­ni­cal change than we saw in the 20th cen­tu­ry.

TotD: Suggested Rules for Democratic Discourse

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Thought of the Day | Posted on 14-08-2008

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Sid­ney Hook, sug­gest­ed rules for demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­course, from “The Ethics of Con­tro­ver­sy,” Sid­ney Hook on Prag­ma­tism, Democ­ra­cy and Free­dom: The Essen­tial Essays:

  • Noth­ing and no one is immune from crit­i­cism.
  • Every­one involved in a con­tro­ver­sy has an intel­lec­tu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to inform him­self of the avail­able facts.
  • Crit­i­cism should be direct­ed first to poli­cies, and against per­sons only when they are respon­si­ble for poli­cies, and against their motives or pur­pos­es only when there is some inde­pen­dent evi­dence of their char­ac­ter.
  • [Just] Because cer­tain words are legal­ly per­mis­si­ble, they are not there­fore moral­ly per­mis­si­ble.
  • Before impugn­ing an opponent’s motives, even when they legit­i­mate­ly may be impugned, answer his argu­ments.
  • Do not treat an oppo­nent of a pol­i­cy as if he were there­fore a per­son­al ene­my of the coun­try or a con­cealed ene­my of democ­ra­cy.
  • Since a good cause may be defend­ed by bad argu­ments, after answer­ing the bad argu­ments for another’s posi­tion present pos­i­tive evi­dence for your own.
  • Do not hes­i­tate to admit lack of knowl­edge or to sus­pend judg­ment if evi­dence is not deci­sive either way.
  • Only in pure log­ic and math­e­mat­ics, not in human affairs, can one demon­strate that some­thing is strict­ly impos­si­ble. Because some­thing is log­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble, it is not there­fore prob­a­ble. “It is not impos­si­ble” is a pref­ace to an irrel­e­vant state­ment about human affairs. The ques­tion is always one of the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties. And the evi­dence for prob­a­bil­i­ties must include more than abstract pos­si­bil­i­ties.
  • The car­di­nal sin, when we are look­ing for truth of fact or wis­dom of pol­i­cy, is refusal to dis­cuss, or action which blocks dis­cus­sion.

ToTD: Fran Lebowitz

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Thought of the Day | Posted on 17-07-2008

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Take away a man’s actu­al sense of man­hood – which is con­ven­tion­al­ly based on the abil­i­ty to work, to earn mon­ey, to be self-suf­fi­cient, to pro­vide for chil­dren – and you’ve got to give them some­thing else. And they did.

This hideous reli­gion that’s all over the coun­try – these huge church-malls – that’s what sub­sti­tutes for these lost towns. But that’s not a town. That’s a cult. A town is diverse, in a real way, not in this fake way we have now. A com­mu­ni­ty is a butch­er and a doc­tor, a min­is­ter, a town trou­ble­mak­er. A ‘com­mu­ni­ty’ is not a bunch of peo­ple unit­ed by some griev­ance. That’s just self-right­eous­ness – incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous and anti­de­mo­c­ra­t­ic. Peo­ple have become so rigid; their opin­ions seem to them like them­selves. When that hap­pens (and it has hap­pened) peo­ple can’t change their minds. If you are iden­ti­fied by your opin­ions – if that is the very basis of your­self – how can you change your mind?

Fran Lebowitz, Rumi­na­tor Mag­a­zine inter­view with Susan­nah McNeely (August/​September 2005)

TotD: Doris Lessing on Education

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Education, Thought of the Day | Posted on 16-07-2008

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The Golden NotebookDoris Less­ing, Intro­duc­tion to The Gold­en Note­book

Ide­al­ly, what should be said to every child, repeat­ed­ly, through­out his or her school life is some­thing like this:

“You are in the process of being indoc­tri­nat­ed. We have not yet evolved a sys­tem of edu­ca­tion that is not a sys­tem of indoc­tri­na­tion. We are sor­ry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amal­gam of cur­rent prej­u­dice and the choic­es of this par­tic­u­lar cul­ture. The slight­est look at his­to­ry will show how imper­ma­nent these must be. You are being taught by peo­ple who have been able to accom­mo­date them­selves to a régime of thought laid down by their pre­de­ces­sors. It is a self-per­pet­u­at­ing sys­tem. Those of you who are more robust and indi­vid­ual than oth­ers will be encour­aged to leave and find ways of edu­cat­ing your­self – edu­cat­ing your own judge­ments. Those that stay must remem­ber, always, and all the time, that they are being mould­ed and pat­terned to fit into the nar­row and par­tic­u­lar needs of this par­tic­u­lar soci­ety.”

TotD: Emma Goldman on Love

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Love, Relationships, Thought of the Day | Posted on 08-07-2008

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Love, the strongest and deep­est ele­ment in all life, the har­bin­ger of hope, of joy, of ecsta­sy; love, the defi­er of all laws, of all con­ven­tions; love, the freest, the most pow­er­ful mold­er of human des­tiny; how can such an all-com­pelling force be syn­ony­mous with that poor lit­tle State and Church-begot­ten weed, mar­riage?

Free love? As if love is any­thing but free! Man has bought brains, but all the mil­lions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has sub­dued bod­ies, but all the pow­er on earth has been unable to sub­due love. Man has con­quered whole nations, but all his armies could not con­quer love. Man has chained and fet­tered the spir­it, but he has been utter­ly help­less before love. High on a throne, with all the splen­dor and pomp his gold can com­mand, man is yet poor and des­o­late, if love pass­es him by. And if it stays, the poor­est hov­el is radi­ant with warmth, with life and col­or. Thus love has the mag­ic pow­er to make of a beg­gar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no oth­er atmos­phere.

Anarchism and Other EssaysEmma Gold­man, “Mar­riage and Love,” Anar­chism and Oth­er Essays (1911)

TotD: Carter Heyward on Love

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Relationships, Thought of the Day | Posted on 29-06-2008

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Carter Hey­ward:

Love, like truth and beau­ty, is con­crete. Love is not fun­da­men­tal­ly a sweet feel­ing; not, at heart, a mat­ter of sen­ti­ment, attach­ment, or being “drawn toward.” Love is active, effec­tive, a mat­ter of mak­ing rec­i­p­ro­cal and mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion with one’s friends and ene­mies. Love cre­ates right­eous­ness, or jus­tice, here on earth. To make love is to make jus­tice. As advo­cates and activists for jus­tice know, lov­ing involves strug­gle, resis­tance, risk. Peo­ple work­ing today on behalf of women, blacks, les­bians and gay men, the aging, the poor in this coun­try and else­where know that mak­ing jus­tice is not a warm, fuzzy expe­ri­ence. I think also that sex­u­al lovers and good friends know that the most com­pelling rela­tion­ships demand hard work, patience, and a will­ing­ness to endure ten­sions and anx­i­ety in cre­at­ing mutu­al­ly empow­er­ing bonds.

For this rea­son lov­ing involves com­mit­ment. We are not auto­mat­ic lovers of self, oth­ers, world, or God. Love does not just hap­pen. We are not love machines, pup­pets on the strings of a deity called “love.” Love is a choice – not sim­ply, or nec­es­sar­i­ly, a ratio­nal choice, but rather a will­ing­ness to be present to oth­ers with­out pre­tense or guile. Love is a con­ver­sion to human­i­ty – a will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate with oth­ers in the heal­ing of a bro­ken world and bro­ken lives. Love is the choice to expe­ri­ence life as a mem­ber of the human fam­i­ly, a part­ner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.

TotD: Eating and Drinking

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Thought of the Day | Posted on 25-06-2008

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This pas­sage remind­ed me of Sam:

Peo­ple ask me: Why do you write about food, and eat­ing and drink­ing? Why don’t you write about the strug­gle for pow­er and secu­ri­ty, and about love, the way oth­ers do?

They ask it accus­ing­ly, as if I were some­how gross, unfaith­ful to the hon­or of my craft.

The eas­i­est answer is to say that, like most oth­er humans, I am hun­gry.

But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and secu­ri­ty and love, are so mixed and min­gled and entwined that we can­not straight­ly think of one with­out the oth­ers. So it hap­pens that when I write of hunger, I am real­ly writ­ing about love and the hunger for it … and then the warmth and rich­ness and fine real­i­ty of hunger sat­is­fied … and it is all one.

The Art of Eating
From The Art of Eat­ing by M.F.K. Fish­er

TotD: Freya Stark on Beauty

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Art, Thought of the Day | Posted on 20-05-2008

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From Perseus in the Wind by Freya Stark:

If love­li­ness is so engaged, as I believe, in the skein of our uni­verse, it is sad that it should be lit­tle cared for in our schools. The whole of the indus­tri­al world pro­claims its unim­por­tance, and mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple spend their lives look­ing almost exclu­sive­ly at ugly things. This sure­ly will pass. What is more insid­i­ous­ly dan­ger­ous at the moment is a timid heresy which believes that the igno­rant can be trained to beau­ty by the sec­ond-rate. The fal­la­cy of our age main­tains it bet­ter to do things bad­ly than not at all. As a mat­ter of fact there is very lit­tle harm in doing noth­ing: to do things bad­ly is an active get­ting in the way of the few nec­es­sary peo­ple who might do good. To adapt beau­ty to “the man in the street” is to use the bed of Pro­crustes with a vengeance and to muti­late divin­i­ty: it is bet­ter to remem­ber that the man in the street him­self was made in the like­ness of God. To him beau­ty is sim­ple and easy, a nat­ur­al hunger which all can assim­i­late in ele­men­tary or com­pli­cat­ed form, pro­vid­ed they are not clut­tered up with medi­oc­rity already. Medi­oc­rity will nev­er lead to beau­ty: the two roads are not even par­al­lel; they are diver­gent.

TotD: Thomas Szasz on Language

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Thought of the Day | Posted on 12-05-2008

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The Untamed TongueReli­gion and the jar­gon of the helping/​hindering pro­fes­sions are com­prised large­ly of lit­er­al­ized metaphors. That is why they are the per­fect tools for legit­imiz­ing and ille­git­imiz­ing ideas, behav­iors, and per­sons.

Ordi­nary lan­guage com­bines all of these qual­i­ties. It can be used lit­er­al­ly and pre­cise­ly, to con­vey mean­ing; metaphor­i­cal­ly or poet­i­cal­ly, to move peo­ple; or ‘reli­gious­ly,’ to blind and numb peo­ple, mak­ing them feel ele­vat­ed or debased.
“In the nat­ur­al sci­ences, lan­guage (math­e­mat­ics) is a use­ful tool: like the micro­scope or tele­scope, it enables us to see what is oth­er­wise invis­i­ble. In the social sci­ences, lan­guage (lit­er­al­ized metaphor) is an imped­i­ment: like a dis­tort­ing mir­ror, it pre­vents us from see­ing the obvi­ous.

That is why in the nat­ur­al sci­ences, knowl­edge can be gained only with the mas­tery of their spe­cial lan­guages; where­as in human affairs, knowl­edge can be gained only by reject­ing the pre­ten­tious jar­gons of the social sci­ences.

Thomas Sza­sz, The Untamed Tongue: A Dis­sent­ing Dic­tio­nary

TotD: Written On the Body

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Reading, Relationships, Thought of the Day | Posted on 08-05-2008

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I’d nev­er heard of Writ­ten on the Body by Jeanette Win­ter­son (or of the author, at all) until I was brows­ing through some of the quo­ta­tions at Gaia1 a while back. This bit is too long for my quo­ta­tions file, but I love it too much to just delete it.

Written On the Body“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trou­ble. To lose some­one you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it’ is the per­son you loved. The pain stops, there are new peo­ple, but the gap nev­er clos­es. How could it’s The par­tic­u­lar­ness of some­one who mat­tered enough to grieve over is not made ano­dyne by death. This hole in my heart is the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to? I’ve thought a lot about death recent­ly, the final­i­ty of it, the argu­ment end­ing in mid-air. One of us hadn’t fin­ished, why did the oth­er one go? And why with­out warn­ing? Even death after long ill­ness is with­out warn­ing. The moment you had pre­pared for so care­ful­ly took you by storm. The troops broke through the win­dow and snatched the body and the body is gone. The day before the Wednes­day last, this time a year ago, you were here and now you’re not. Why not? Death reduces us to the baf­fled log­ic of a child. If yes­ter­day why not today? And where are you? Frag­ile crea­tures of a small blue plan­et, sur­round­ed by light years of silent space. Do the dead find peace beyond the rat­tle of the world? What peace is there for us whose best love can­not return them even for a day? I raise my head to the door and think I will see you in the frame. I know it is your voice in the cor­ri­dor but when I run out­side the cor­ri­dor is emp­ty. There is noth­ing I can do that will make any dif­fer­ence. The last word is yours. The flut­ter­ing in the stom­ach goes away and the dull wak­ing pain. Some­times I think of you and I feel gid­dy. Mem­o­ry makes me light­head­ed, drunk on cham­pagne. All the things we did. And if any­one had said this was the price I would have agreed to pay it. That sur­pris­es me; that with the hurt and the mess comes a shaft of recog­ni­tion. It was worth it. Love is worth it.

After read­ing about the book, I was sur­prised to find that it isn’t about the obvi­ous sort of loss. The nov­el is described as an erot­ic homage to a lover’s body, but one of the intrigu­ing aspect is that the author nev­er gives the nar­ra­tor a gen­der. I’m going to try to find it to give it a read.


1 Yes, I’m Tech­noMom there, like most places.