Posts Tagged debate

Sam Lindsay-Levine

Sam and I were college buddies, but I admit I regret not getting to know him better while I was at ‘Tech. For various (dumb) reasons, I didn’t spend much time with Sam, and then I moved away for grad school. Hilariously, it was at that point I found out (1) Sam was an awesome guy, (2) he was also into Physics, (3) he was also into Magic, and (4) he and my other good friend Nate were willing to take on a roommate for when I moved out to L.A. Thus began our excellent times at the Death Star, where Sam and I often got into philosophical debates and debates over how good various Magic cards were. His cat FORSTSABER and I also did quite a few drafts together (two drops two drops!) on Main Screen, our projector, in the living room. Sam and I even made the Un- set Unsnidd with help from our other Magical ‘Tech friend Dan.

Sam is exactly the kind of person I enjoy conversing with: highly logical, possessed of a reasonable emotional side, and intelligent. He understands quite a bit about the universe, and is willing to argue out a contentious point until both parties are satisfied, something I also enjoy doing. Although he would probably prefer to stay in much of the time, I was quite happy when I or friends were able to convince him to come out with us, because he is a great addition to any group outing. He and his wife Kirsten, also a Caltech friend, were gracious enough to check on me when I visited fair Minneapolis for U.S. Nationals recently, and even invited me and (another) Nate over to game! Truly, Sam is my friend who is most interested in organizing game parties, and I am super grateful because I love game parties!

I know that whatever globular thing Sam sets his mind to, he’ll accomplish, and I am proud to call him friend. (And if you couldn’t tell, we have a number of shared inside jokes, included here for posterity and hilarity.)

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Review: Prince of Persia

Went out to see Prince of Persia: Sands of Time last night with awesome folk as kind of a postdated birthday celebration, and I wanted to get my thoughts down.  I think I liked it overall – I am kind of a sucker for video game movies anyway, and despite its failings (which I’ll get into in a moment), it was an enjoyable watch.  I personally wanted more time manipulation because I am a time-control-junkie, but since it was an essential part of the plot, it figures they wouldn’t be able to use it as much as I wanted.

The biggest complaint I have about the movie is one Zac brought up, that the characters’ dialogue was all about telling the narrative, and when dramatic moments were attempted, they fell kind of flat.  It was cheesy, but I don’t really mind that — in fact, had it been a tad cheesier, it would have been waaaaay better!  As it was, it was straddling this strange line of humor/drama between Shrek and Lord of the Rings and it didn’t quite satisfy.  I guess that’s the danger of making these four-quadrant films that are supposed to appeal to young and old, male and female.

The action of the movie was satisfying overall – a very video gamey feel, very appropriate.  There were even a few homages to the Prince of Persia style “parkour”/puzzle games in some of the cinematography.  The acting was pretty flat – I was not feeling chemistry between the male and female leads, which is too bad, because they were both hot!  Uh, I mean… no, I guess that’s what I mean. :)

I would recommend this movie to anyone who (1) enjoys video games, specifically Prince of Persia (obv), and (2) doesn’t have critical film expectations for it – you just want to have a good time.  Which we did!

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Is Sentience Superior?

When I wrote about whether one could balance 10 lives against 1, John had a very interesting point in the comments about the viewpoint that sentient life is special and therefore superior to other forms of life / nonliving environments — and he felt pretty strongly that it was a BAD idea to believe this was true.  I want to speak a bit more about the role of sentience in my head.

Why is sentient life special?  Well, I believe it is because it is different from everything else.  That is, a person who can think and choose is different from an automaton, and also different from an animal.  Right away, if you believe humans are NOT different from automatons / animals (e.g. there is no free will or agency, and humans are just biomachines), we differ in fundamental assumptions.  John said in his comment that he thinks humans are another step on the evolutionary ladder – something to which I agree but which I also think doesn’t tell the whole story. I have a hard time comparing sentience (self-awareness and free-willedness) to a hypothetical other quality; I suppose there could be an equivalent alien quality that deserves special treatment to sentience but is not itself sentience, but I can’t imagine it.

(My friend Will also commented on Facebook about how he believes sentience is a spectrum, to which I also mostly agree – I just define a “sentient being” along that spectrum past a point that is not arbitrary; it corresponds to being free-willed and “sufficiently” self-aware, which is of course the point of contention!)

Just being different is not really good enough to talk about superiority – but there is another question to which the answer might give weight to the “superiority of sentience”: in what way is sentient life different than other life in its capabilities and actions?  The more sentient an entity is, the more organized and capable of self-organization it is, and the more capable it is of willfully fighting entropy and the tendency of the universe toward disorder.  I think this is a worthy ideal – fighting against entropy.  In doing so, we create amazing experiences and things and shape the universe for the better.  Yes, sentient beings are also even MORE capable of destruction, but that’s to be balanced against their greater capability for creation.

I don’t advocate letting humanity (or any other sentient race) using up the environment or other nonsentient species for their own benefit, but I do in some sense subscribe to a “greater good” theory that is sentient-centric.  If anyone is capable of understanding their own impact on others, it’s a sentient lifeform – and therefore it is for sentient lifeforms to judge each other on their impact and by the ideals they work toward together.

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Second Chances

I realized I haven’t really covered that many of my principles over the course of this month, either because I haven’t had the time to sit down and expound upon them, or I had something I really wanted to talk about that was more currents-events-y.  Today, though, I wanted to touch on one that I definitely stand by even after discussing with others how and why they feel the way they do: giving people second chances.

I believe everyone deserves a “second chance”. But what do I mean when I say “second chance”?  I really mean that I judge a person’s ability to be responsible by their intent, not by their performance.  Of course, you can’t measure intent directly (whereas you can measure performance), but I tend to view a person’s performance as a way to judge both their ability (are they competent?) and their motive (are they a reasonable person to “trust” at this task?).

For me, the best measures of whether someone should have another crack at something is whether they intend to do it well.  If the gap is in their competence, and after seeing them try, I feel like that’s the barrier, I will try to make sure they get education or training or what-have-you before letting them do it again.  But if the gap is in their intent, game over.

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Would you sacrifice 1 to save 10?

Inevitably, because of the way my mind works and because of the friends I choose, I will enter into the conversation of the importance/value/”currency” of life.  The title’s question – would you sacrifice one life to save ten? – gets at the heart of the conflict between the purely utilitarian viewpoint that I tend to loathe because it cannot encompass my morality, and the more stringent and much harder for me to articulate “principle” system that I feel defines me.

In case it was not apparent, in such conversations, nearly everyone I know answers “usually, it depends on who they are, judging based on the “worth” of the one life compared to the ten, either subjectively to them or in some more general-to-humanity sense.  I always answer “no.”  In fact, the quantity and the quality of the lives is essentially irrelevant* to me — the principle by which I have come to define my thinking on this is sentient life is special: it cannot be compared in value to other things or even other sentient life. I’m not sure exactly why I think this is true – it is a combination of a feeling of uniqueness about self-aware organisms compared to the rest of stuff in the universe, and also the agency that I believe all sentient life possesses (definitionally) – the capacity for free will.

Kant expresses this in his Categorical Imperative by saying “you should not treat rational beings as merely a means to an end, but always as an end in and of themselves.”  I pretty much agree with that sentiment.  I do, however, understand that absolutes (even moral ones!) cannot be held in spite of practicality – they are ideals to strive for, but not always to live by.

Would I kill in self-defense, or to save someone I loved?  Would I kill one individual to save my species?  Probably.  But this drives another principle, which I also believe quite strongly, the “no moral free lunch” principle: a person should be allowed to do something immoral, but they should also be responsible for the moral consequences of that action. I respect the fundamental freedom of choice – that a free-willed individual should be able to choose and not constrained unnecessarily by other individuals – but definitely think every choice has a potential (moral) cost associated with it.

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What is Real?

Zac and I had an interesting conversation that started with how to understand boy-girl dynamics in the context of attraction, and then moved on to how much meaning ideas that are wholly self-defined are, and finally moved into some pretty ridiculous conceptual space: the definition of real.

It’s hard for me to talk about his perspective, so I’ll speak to mine.  In my discussion about friendship, I brought up that I want to emanate/broadcast this trust and devotion, regardless of whether (a) the other person in the friendship considers our friendship to “be about that,” and/or (b) the other person cares that I think it is.  I mean, I would hope that they care, but it is more important to me to treat people this way for its own sake.

Is my idea about how a friend should be treated grounded in reality?  Or, more interestingly, it is real at all?  I have certainly had people tell me that I’m wrong about what motivates me – my altruism is just glorified selfishness (more long term, perhaps, but selfishness just the same).  I would argue that in my ability to think and make decisions, I also have the capability of defining my actions in the world, at least somewhat independent of what the world is.

A final thought experiment on this topic today: Zac proposed the idea of a “four-sided triangle” to me.  He and I argued about whether the fact those two concepts, brought in juxtaposition despite being contradictory, is meaningful.  I think that it is, and here’s why: when he brings it up, he has some conception related to this squarangle in his head.  I have a potentially different conception.  Our shared mindspace devoted to the squarangle gives it meaning – and all that it needs it that meaning to be “real”.

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Image 1

I believe each person holds at least three versions of themselves inside.  The most important is the inner self, who you really are.  The most visible is the outer self – who you appear to be to the people who interact with you.  But there is also another piece, for thinking feeling people: the ideal self, or who you want to be.  There is usually a gap between who a person is and who they want to be, so they are not the same.  I know that Ideal Dave is still just a projection in my head; I am not there yet.

I think there’s a lot of really interesting depth to this perspective on identity (hence the “1” in today’s blog post title) but I wanted to focus on describing two very interesting effects of the interrelationship among them.

The first is identity trending: over time, your inner self will become more like your ideal self… given that you have some conception of your ideal self (consciously).  I think this is really just me restating that “people can change” and “you can change yourself for the better more ideal.”  I know, for example, I strive to be very honest with my friends about my thoughts and feelings – because Ideal Dave is honest with and trusting of his friends – so my inner self has taken actions (like this blog) to be more like that.

The second is identity assumption: if we are not careful (meaning taking conscious action against it), if our outer self and inner self don’t match, we will become more like our outer self.  This is kind of a restatement of “if you keep making faces, your face is going to get stuck that way.”  Our, in more useful terms, when you pretend to be somebody you aren’t, you start to become that pretend version of yourself.  I don’t think it happens for everyone, but I have certainly noticed it happening to me – it is really tough to keep three selves in your conscious mind and also keep them separate.

As usual, these were thoughts in my head… I’m sure someone has written about this before!

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The Emotional Mind

I had a good long talk with Bill and Jess last night, and among the many things we discussed, I talked about my conception of the roles of the logical (rational) mind and the emotional (sensory/reactive) mind.  I think every person has in some measure both of these pieces to their thinking, and I can certainly tell a few things about mine just through introspection and gut analysis:

  • I am not exactly comfortable with how important my emotional mind is in my decision making process.
  • I believe that ideally, my emotional mind would take a backseat to my logical mind in decision making.

When I brought up this latter point (which I have actually done a few times recently), I was immediately forced to defend why I thought this.  The outline of my thought process is that I believe in each human’s capacity for free will.  The emotional mind, bound up as it is in what is happening (or what has happened) around you, is so rooted in context [the here and now, the practical] that it is much more the piece driven by biological imperatives, or previous mental conditioning, or even just simple nurture as you grew and learned.  The logical mind, on the other hand, must therefore be the seat of agency – it is the place where I (the “I” of Dave) make decisions.  Since the emotional mind is predisposed to lots of outmoded behaviors that I consider at least in part immoral or useless (selfishness, jealousy, anger), I must rely on my logical mind to transcend who I am and allow me to be who I want to be.

Of course, this is probably sounding hopelessly idealistic and/or naive.  It certainly appeared to when speaking to Bill and Jess!  Upon reflection, I think I am overcompensating for the power of my emotional mind in my decision making (see first bullet point above) and saying “the logical mind should be supreme!” to counteract what I view as less-controllable influence on my decisions.  The perfect Dave is probably one in which the logical and emotional coexist peacefully – I am capable of making decisions (free will, guided by the logical mind) but I am well-informed, and not cut off from, my emotions while doing so.

(Also, I was trying to connect this highly analytical post to a Yesterdave anecdote, but the one I found – my troubled “relationship” with Katharina and the balance of logical vs. emotional in its resolution – is so difficult to explain I figured I would leave it for later!)

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Kiss the Girl

I have had some recent conversations that seem to boil down to this one question: when should a guy kiss a girl, prior to actually being in a relationship?  This question is tricky, because hidden inside it is the question, “when does a girl decide (for better or for worse) whether she wants to be involved with a guy?”

Some of those I’ve talked to believe this determination happens very early – maybe as early as meeting the person.  We subconsciously evaluate physical attractiveness even as we focus on high-level reasons to be friends.  But does the determination of compatibility come this early?  And is it unchangeable?  Maybe a person doesn’t know that they have already decided on the question of compatibility, but it will be apparent later (regardless of what the other person does).  This camp would say kiss at the appropriate time, “when the moment feels right,” but it won’t have any particular influence on the (potential) relationship.

Others I’ve talked to believe that it’s not as cut and dried – everything that comes after meeting a person, up to and including getting physical (kissing etc.), influences your compatibility in sort of a continuous way.  A kiss is a kind of question that asks the other person to adjust their thinking about the other person – or maybe more accurately, provides more information on which to make that determination.  This camp would say kiss sooner rather than later, to give (and get) more information [feeling] that can influence each person’s stance on the (potential) relationship.

I’m not sure how I feel – I tend toward thinking it relies a lot on the particular guy and girl involved, and thus more on the side of the latter.  But then, I often factor comfort level in (“when the moment feels right”) and I’m sure I get it wrong a lot. 😛

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Being Human

Here are the qualities I think humans possess, that I think define us:

  • Rational: we are not always rational, but we are capable of rational thought, and sometimes use it to (apparently :)) make decisions and weigh choices among each other.  Two humans acting rationally are capable of comparing their valuations and decisions.
  • Self-Aware: we are each aware that we are individuals separate from the world, and we recognize this quality in others; despite sometimes thinking “I am all there is, and everything else is in my head,” the default mode of thought about our surroundings is that humans are individuals separate from each other.
  • Empathetic: we have emotions, and can recognize emotions in others, and generate emotions in ourselves based on what we see in others.  I believe this also covers the fact that we are capable of choosing with whom we wish to associate and we become emotionally closer to those people.
  • Projection: we are capable of imagining ourselves in the shoes of other people; more than just analyzing rationally what others have chosen for themselves, we can put ourselves into their context (in a limited way, based on our own knowledge) and actually MAKE the decision for ourselves (or, if you prefer, our personal echo of that individual) internally.
  • Adaptable: we have a huge capacity for changing ourselves with respect to our environment, and with respect to other humans.  I like to think of this as “no natural environment” for humanity – we make our own environment (change the world to fit us) or make ourselves adapt to our environment (change ourselves to fit the world) wherever we go.
  • Unlimited: I don’t think there’s any limit to what humans are capable of accomplishing – and that includes transcending physical laws (if it is possible to do so, a question that can’t really be answered by systems of thought bound to physical laws) given enough time (e.g. time travel, teleportation, FTL travel, etc.).  This is a combination of the power of human communities, adaptability and our capacity for rational thought (the two together mean that even in areas where rational thought is not enough, humans are capable of somewhat irrational “leaps forward”).

I was just musing on some of these qualities individually, and thought I should write them down.

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