Monday, November 21, 2011


I've been participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement over the past two months. It's been exciting and worthwhile. In case you're wondering "What is the movement about?" or "What is the movement saying?", I'd like to lay that out in a couple of short sentences.

OWS's central message is that money has taken over the government, and that shouldn't be the case. We should be more democratic than oligarchic. Just because you're rich your voice shouldn't carry more weight.

While there are a host of other causes floating about, and there's also a general surge of diverse political opinion and discussion (something I've relished over these past two months), that's the central message that everyone -- from anarchists, socialists, progressives, Democrats, libertarians, Republicans, and so on -- agrees on.

That being said, our local chapter of this movement is trying to buy a bus. But we're broke. There are a lot of good reasons to own a bus, all central to the ideals of the occupy movement, which revolve around 1) presence of our movement, 2) mobilization of the occupiers to important areas, and 3) ability to carry around supplies and people to actions. If you have a little extra and like the idea of a group of spirited activists driving around doing community service and demonstrating against corruption in the government, then this is the group to donate to.

See us at

Naturally, it's also just fun to give an update on life and what's come out of the Wichita chapter of the occupy movement, so if you don't have money, at least tell me if you think this is a cool idea or not.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A life update

The previous month I've been busy with the local section of the "Occupy..." movement. Things seem to be starting to branch into definite groups with select progressive goals, at least by my lights. We'll see how these goals carry on. Hopefully well.

In either case, though, the movement has provided some excellent practical lessons on the art of organizing people. I've also gotten in contact with several local activists that I hadn't known before, which is nice.

Some take-away lessons:

1. Anarchy isn't all bad. While I agreed with the overall message, the anarchic approach had me nervous. But benefits to the anarchic approach kept on cropping up, especially with respect to either a) convincing people to come out, or b) responding to those who weren't going to come out anyways. While order has progressively been built up, and fractions have resulted from that order, I found the anarchic approach more refreshing than I had initially anticipated.

2. The consistent application of principles is more important than overtly emotional appeals, or passionate justifications. There's nothing wrong with these, of course, but the problem with the latter is that they make it difficult to organize if these are your sole motivations, justifications, or arguments. These things in conjunction I think are best, but one needs to be able to consistently make appeals to the means and ends they're going to use in order to bring about order.

3. Protest is a perfectly good reason to organize! You don't need a super-involved project, such as a newspaper, political party, platform, or other event. You can organize people around something as simple as handing out flyers, holding signs, or simply talking to people on the streets. The thing missing isn't that there isn't something to do, but that people are largely socially uncertain in unfamiliar settings. This asociality is a larger barrier to organizing than the need for a project. (I had always thought that the project was important, but really now I think having similar-ish goals and someone with a little social gusto and willingness to listen is probably enough to get people out)

4. Though anarchy isn't all bad, I have recieved confirmation on my hypothesis that in order to get things done, you need some kind of social rules at play. Anarchy can provide these, understood in the right way. But a stricter order, IMV, would still be nice. I don't mind hierarchy. It seems a necessary feature of society. I only mind it when the leaders are ignoble.

5. There are a lot more left-leaning people in Kansas than I had presumed.

6. If you schedule a protest, make sure you have some musicians. People get bored, and this is usually a good source of morale.

7. Literature is important. The importance of street literature isn't a thesis-level writing, but simple bullet points which get your message across. Having presence is the important aspect.

Other than that, I've tried to organize a union at work but to no avail. People think it sounds good-ish, but not good enough to actually do anything about it. So I've taken the liberty of mentioning unionization every time someone complains about work. I'm probably hated by everyone. ;)

Lastly, I'm considering looking at different graduate programs from chemistry. In particular, I'm considering going to some softer sciences because they're more interesting and complex. Either that, or philosophy. If I have the guts to bite the bullet and try to do philosophy of science as an occupation. (And I don't know what the heck people mean by the golden rays of industry in science. Industry is boring as fuck. And, they fuck you over like any other industry -- academic or otherwise -- would. Seems to me that it's pretty much just another job: you hate it, but heck, it pays the bills, and you have time off to do things you like)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Free Philosophy journal!

So I was poking around looking for stuff on ordinary language philosophy, and I came across which is an online bi-annual philosophy journal which publishes their work for free. Very cool!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chemistry Union

At the new job I work at I often hear complaints about wages, treatment, and working conditions. The Chemistry field looks precarious, at times. While this field is by no means the worst field to work within, I have taken to mentioning the benefits of unionism where I work to other workers.

Politics tends to be a "no-no" topic, from what I can tell about the atmosphere so this makes it somewhat difficult to broach. But I don't think a Chemists union would have to restrict itself to a single plant, or a single company, and in fact I think would be better if it did not restrict itself to a plant or company. In a sense Chemists already have a professional organization to help workers keep in touch with the chemistry field -- the ACS (though that only applies to Americans). But this is a wholly unbalanced relationship. It keeps a pool of ready and willing workers in contact with companies who may pick and choose, but we don't have bargaining rights outside of our resumes and references. I think that the chemistry employees would benefit greatly by forming a union -- and not just a union which is embedded within a given company, but a union formed by and operated by the workers themselves. This would give us, as employees, bargaining power in the labor market of chemistry. This is beneficial because it would aid us in bringing more stability to our jobs so that we can pursue the things in life that are worthwhile outside of work, such as family, projects, politics, and so forth. Further, it would make the working field equatable, as currently we are all disjointed which is beneficial only to those with collective bargaining power: our employers.

But it's a hard sell. I live in a conservative state, and conservative values tend to weigh against unionism on the basis of principle, and on the basis of fear. I mention fear because when I mentione unionizing, the responses are not of the sort, "I do not believe..." but "Such activities couldn't succeed", so I think there's at least some motivational fear which stops unionism from working. The sad thing is that rural, conservative states would benefit most from unionism. They tend to be the poorest!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


While I may not have been accepted by any universities for graduate programs, I have been hired on as a quality control chemist right out of college. This is, more or less, a good thing. So far everyone is dorky, which means we get along, and while I've had to read a bajillion and have a Megabajillion more little papers and procedures to read, I'll actually be doing chemistry to support myself. This should include, in the main, wet lab techniques and HPLC. This also means that I'll have the opportunity to really hone my lab skills to perfection, including lab notebook keeping techniques. While I'm good with theory and have an ability to communicate complex ideas, I've always been a little. . . disorganized. Here, that is not an option, and since I like the idea of remaining employed, I'll actually work on that rather than simply say, "I should, but haven't yet"

Also, they have an R&D department in house, so there's opportunity to move into research, eventually. Great news!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Diagram of Kant's mind

I'm placing this here mostly so that I may share it with others in an online reading group I'm participating in. But, hey, if you like this sort of thing, maybe you'll get a kick out of it. It can be read as a "flow of information" diagram, where the stuff on the right has information flowing in, and hte stuff on the left is information flowing inward as well, but from some high-falutin' seat of rockem'-sockem thought, and the stuff we experience is right in the middle where it says "The Categories, temporalized" -- or the Schema.

EDIT: And it looks like I'll need another diagram for his theory of perception, so I'm putting that here too.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Recently I've been taken with the notion of "we"-intentionality. I'm not sure if it's the greatest solution just yet, but it's a cool concept that helps explain at least one thing -- why people say "we" when they address an audience.

First, intentionality. Intentionality is that feature of our minds that "refers", or has aboutness. To explain this: Suppose your imagine a picture of your car. The "aboutness", or that which refers your thought to your car is the intentionality of that thought. This would be an example of "I"-intentionality -- you're talking about yourself and yourself only in thinking about your car. "We"-intentionality would be something like "We believe that vegetables are good for you". The "we" would mean that you and others that you are a part of believe. That which allows you all to believe together is "we"-intentionality. It's a little weird to think in these terms, at first, because we're used to thinking of thoughts as "private". But think about a close friend or lover you've had. Usually people can tell if something is wrong with them, or predict what they're going to say next if the friends know each other enough. I know that I've had this experience. I would say that this is an instance of "we"-intentionality: It's actually not too uncommon to know what peers in an organization, or even other people within a given community that only passingly know each other think and feel. Surely we can be mistaken, and corrected, but we can also be correct, so I'd say that this is at least a proof of concept of "we"-intentionality.

What does this explain? Well, I've noticed that in conversation when sharing beliefs or explaining concepts to a group of people, the pronoun "we" is often used. A person may jeer if they disagree, "Are you two people?" -- but the language can also float by without notice. This would be an instance of correctly inferring that "we"-intentionality applies in that situation. In either instance, however, "we"-intentionality explains a feature of communication: it is an act of agreeing with one another, or checking to see if we agree with each other (feel free to interject, here ;) ). By saying "We think..." it brings attention to the fact that agreement is needed in this instance for an argument to continue, or it checks to see if a group is indeed still in line with one another. No "royal perspective" is no longer necessary to explain why people say "we" when speaking to others -- we have "we"-intentionality.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Placing Consciousness in a Biological Context

In biology, I think that form is ontologically prior to function. By this I mean that a change in form implies a change in function, but that a change in function does not imply a change in form. By form I mean phenotype. So, a proper biological ontology would be:

Genotype -- Phenotype -- Function

Phenotypic expression is causally determined by environmental constrains on the ability to reproduce genotypes to the next generation. Natural selection, in this case, is the hard-stop of genotype reproduction -- those who do not pass their information on will stop passing their information on. As such, environment is actually wider than natural selection, and natural selection only plays a role at the level of genotype. Natural drift would also fall in at the level of genotype. Sexual selection, however, would be ontologically separate from natural selection because it is a selection for phenotypes which then causes a selection for some genotypes.

In most biological species function can only be changed by phenotype, and phenotype by the three preceding mechanisms.

"Consciousness" is a separate evolutionary mechanism which operates on function in the limits of phenotypic expression -- or in some extreme cases, such as cloning, acts on genotypic expression. As a mechanism of evolution, it operates in the realm of function – the brain runs on functions and this mechanism of evolution is a function of genotypic reproduction and selection. This isn’t to say that consciousness isn’t more than this – this would just be the way one could explain consciousness in a biological context. More detailed explanations of consciousness would supervene on this general sketch.

I think this ontology accounts for the biological nature of consciousness, as well as its special place in nature while staying in the bounds of an ontological naturalism. These would be the reasons for adopting it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A quick and unconsidered take on foundationalism

According to on April 25, 2011, there exists in the English language…
Total Words: 171,476

Nouns: 85738

Adjectives: 42869

Suppose the Sentence "'noun' is 'adjective'"

Then for each noun, there are 42869 possible sentences
Given this, there are 85,738 x 42,869 possible sentences of this form, giving some
leeway for creative embellishments, and the fact that we aren't counting verbs
or modifiers or articles etc etc.

This amounts to…




About 3.6 billion sentences of this form

Now compare the number of sentences which we use to describe
the world

This, I believe, gives a strong reason to believe that ….

1) Our perceptions are similar

2) Our world is structured by us

Which implies, in a metaphorical sense, that empiricists and rationalists are both wrong.

THE END! lulz

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Some time ago I had posited that a good problem to solve in the philosophy of science would be to answer, "How should we treat experts?" The problem arises because one doesn't want to just take a person's word on the truth of some claim, yet there are disciplines in modern society which require a a restrictive amount of time to become "expert" in -- and therefore one must rely upon the truth claims of others in certain domains. This may not seem to be a problem, but suppose the recent bank scandal: The experts were the bankers, and they used their expertise to gain. As such, the trust which "expert" status was broached. Even more than this "expert" status is always potentially abusive, not only socially but also personally. The solution to the problem should treat this: How does one minimize potential abuse while still having experts in a given domain, a thing which surely is useful?

A few possible solutions:
1. Remove expertise status. No expertise status, no problem of experts. This has some potentially undesirable consequences, however, as we surely enjoy our brain surgeons to be trained as brain surgeons before doing brain surgery. This solution is still viable in some sense, however, because we could restrict expert status to a few occupations which we deem as acceptable (Doctor, Lawyer, Scientist for example) This would minimize the potential for abuse. However, this is already largely done on a social level, so there isn't much of a problem being solved here.

2. Ethics: If we were all ethical, then there wouldn't be abuse of expertise status. This would require a certain level of trust between members in a society which would be earned by our acting in proper ways. This is an ideal solution. By ideal I mean, totally impractical in every way because we don't take ethics terribly seriously on a social-wide level. It's a "personal" thing. So to implement this solution we would first have to start revising what our social ethics amounts to, which would likely push aside some of our other social values.

3. Trust Experts: This is a common solution to the problem. The value of experts is held above the potential for abuse to the point that we all agree to trust experts despite this potential for abuse.

4. I have a possible rule that might be adopted, and I would think of this as a sort of middle path between 2 and 3. It would be "Require experts to be able to teach". This indicates that when an expert makes a claim, a non-expert is allowed to question that claim. Naturally there are good and bad ways of going about this. If a non-expert states "Well, fuck you buddy!" this will likely not facilitate proper or positive communication between either party. Instead, he could state something along the lines of, "I do not believe you. Could you explain yourself further?" This would require something of a social change, as well -- that we be socially allowed to civilly disagree, even on potentially hostile topics. This would require a form of training which would help persons to express their disagreements in a succinct and communicable manner. The best discipline for this, I feel, is philosophy. So, solution 4 really boils down to not just a rule, but a change in our education by requiring philosophy be learned by everyone in High School. However, it does have the advantage of engendering trust between persons as they come to understand one anothers' position more, and thereby allowing experts to exist, while placing them subject to the possibility of a willing "student" asking questions.

It's likely apparent which solution I prefer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Incommensurability is the thesis that world-views which scientific practice has posed throughout the ages are fundamentally different, or not comparable. An example often used a comparison between Einsteinian, Newtonian, and Quantum physics. Newton stated that mass is an entity separate from energy. Einstein's physics posits that mass is a manifestation of energy -- a possible property for energy to take on. Quantum physics, contra both Newtonian and Einsteinian physics, posits (in its first form, at least) that causality is a probabilistic construct, instead of an infinitely deterministic construct.

Usually the incommensurabile thesis is defended by pointing out dramatic changes between scientific systems. Naturally there is wiggle room for what constitutes "dramatic". Generally I take this to mean that the ontological construct of science has changed. So, we have an atomic theory, for instance, and it would not change the ontological structure of chemistry to posit another atom, or another molecule, or even a new way of bonding. There exists atoms and bonds. However, were we to posit that the universe is not composed of atoms, but waves of energy and waves of energy only, and that the atoms we reference are tools in the same sense that a meter is a tool (whereas "length" would be the ontic unit of a meter), then we'd have an instance of incommensurability. " "The universe is atoms and only atoms" and "The universe is energy waves and only energy waves" "can not be true. You have to choose one or the other, or make an adjustment that allows for both.

In playing with the incommensurability thesis, I broke open my Aristotle and wrote the following thought experiment where I interpreted spectroscopic data using Aristotle's theories.

Spectroscopic analysis would be conceived of in an entirely different way within the Aristotelian framework. Nature abhors a void so there aren't any atoms, and... (From Book II of De Anima)

" explain what light is.

Now there clearly is something which is transparent, and by 'transparent' I mean what is visible, and yet not visible in itself, but rather owing its visibility to the colour of something else; of this character are air, water, and many solid bodies. Neither air nor water is transparent because it is air or water; they are transparent because each of them has contained in it a certain substance which is the same in both and is also found in the eternal body which constitutes the uppermost shell of the physical Cosmos. Of this substance light is the activity-the activity of what is transparent so far forth as it has in it the determinate power of becoming transparent; where this power is present, there is also the potentiality of the contrary, viz. darkness. Light is as it were the proper colour of what is transparent, and exists whenever the potentially transparent is excited to actuality by the influence of fire or something resembling 'the uppermost body'; for fire too contains something which is one and the same with the substance in question. "

So, the differences one can obtain from a spectroscope could be explained by this transparent substance in activity with different proportionate mixtures of the elements, which is something Aristotle references often in explaining why different things are what they are (I'm just taking a guess here. But I don't think it's fair to infer, using Aristotle's work in a scientific manner, that reference to quantum energy states modeled by operator algebra explains lines on a given spectroscopic measurement). But, even more importantly, this would be the mere material cause, reflecting a samples potentiality. The actuality could only be garnered from what that material would be used for. Suppose it is a medicine. The ratio of elements would be the potential within the substance, and the shape of the sample at the time of the spectroscope would be during its coming-to-be. For the end of medicine is getting well, and when it is used would be its actuality. (I'm pulling from ideas in Aristotle's Physics and Metaphysics as well, here)

In using Aristotle, while I can find a common referent, and I even think that modern theories are better with respect to truth-value, one can come to understand the incommensurability thesis best, I think. This is because science works by inferring to the best explanation within a certain explanatory framework, and inferences, contra arguments, are actions. It's in the use of science that one understands incommensurability best, and not the "logic" of science.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

I have been re-engaging Wittgenstein's Tractatus logico-philosophicus. It is one of the most difficult books I've read, and now reread, and even translated to get a bearing on my reading. With the most difficult thinkers I engage, I enjoy stopping in the middle of my writing and drawing a diagram of the argument/metaphysic in order to have a visual representation of the argument as I go along that I can modify, reconnect, and have at the end to remind myself of key points. The list of thinkers that had been on that list is now expanded by one, and Wittgenstein's diagram is the messiest version (though Kant is still the one that has forced me to start from scratch more than any other).

Last night I believe I obtained an important key to understanding this work: It ought to be read as a lament. The book claims to have solved all the problems of philosophy in its introduction, and to claim that the size of the Tractatus shows how insignificant these problems are. And so he begins:

1. The World is everything that is the case

which lays a foundation, of sorts, upon which the Tractatus digs into. I think it important to understand this as a digging downward, because the emotional feel of this work is best understood as a negative plot: the sharpness of this descent can first be sharply felt within section 3. Section 2 begins to outlay the connection between "the case", "objects", "facts", "atomic facts/states of affairs", and other common-place things which are talked of "in the world".

In 3 one can feel the descent because this is where one understands in what way we understand the world. 4 displays how thinking is connected with itself, and this is why the serious logic begins here. The outline of propositions is significantly different from the outline of atomic facts and objects. We can only mention atomic facts and objects, as we can only mention atomic propositions and their truth values. 5 shows how truth values are derived. I think the nadir occurs around proposition 5.5, but I'm being somewhat arbitrary about that. That I have a feeling for this text, now, is a significant leap forward in understanding it. I can not explain all of the text, but I have an idea of its predominant thrust.

The end of 5, right before 6, signifies an upward slope. But it isn't a hopeful upward slope. It's the beginning of building back upwards from the hole that has been dug into the foundations lain in the beginning.

6 begins to show in what way this digging and explicating, while part of what philosophy has been doing, doesn't answer what philosophy asks -- the world is understandable, but the whole is tautologous. It places mathematics and natural science in a "place" within understanding, and reflects that while some persons think these things are ultimately true that this is a sort of superstition. Science, causality, and so on is logical, and all we can know is logic. And, even more than that, I think a very important proposition for understanding the catharsis/melancholy of the ending is:

6.4 All propositions are of equal value.

From this it follows that the important questions, important to Witty at least, can not be answered. They have no sense. Or that this is the answer to the important questions: That the question, having no answer, can't even be sensibly formulated -- and so the secret to immortality and happiness lies not in philosophical speculation, but in a mental nowness: Which is entirely unsatisfying.

This is why I think one needs to read Wittgenstein's "correct method" as sort of tongue-in-cheek preperation for his final proposition. If "correct philosophy" consists in correcting the errors of metaphysical speculation, and others feel that they are not then learning philosophy, then how is philosophy philosophy? Why is it that philosophy is, correctly done, unphilosophical?

Naturally the ending is a bit enigmatic, but I think the final proposition in 6 can be understood in that all what has been said is senseless -- in Wittgenstein's specific way of using this word. The outline that the Tractatus is has no reference. As the entire thing does not refer to "the case", and one finds that out by the time they begin to build "the world" back into a whole from which it has been disassembled, there can't actually be a sense to any of these propositions. However, if we, after having crawled through, on, and over these propositions, one would be wise, having reached the limit of our world at the barrier of language, to throw the ladder down. What has been taken apart is no longer needed -- it is senseless, and with that understanding of senselessness, the world is made right.

However, There is proposition 7. I get the feeling that Wittgenstein did not take his own advice. He did not "see the world right". The entire book is a detailed struggle to understand ethics and related philosophical problems, and it ends in failure. It's horribly dissapointing, and with 7 we see that Wittgenstein will not give up that chase -- he will simply remain silent, and melancholy.

Man, I'm probably going to reread the Tractatus, as I'm not entirely certain on what everything in it means -- but the effort I've spent in reading and rereading this book has been well worth it. Once I seemed to "Get it"... it was an absolutely incredible feeling.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt is an Inspiration

I've been watching Al-Jazeera to catch up on the Egyptian uprising link

The images are an amazing sight to behold because they're of regular men and women standing up in protest to change their government. They're persons that want freedom. They're an example of how people can bond together to affect political change, and it is change of this nature that the United States could benefit from. They want democracy. I am not against democracy. But our politics do not account for the political nature of economics, and as economic power becomes intertwined in political power this is a poor interpretive stance. The economic is the political. With this message in mind, everyday persons in the United States could bind together in a general union ran by workers. Those who stock shelves, wait tables, and tend bars could have a political voice. At present there is no labor-left party within the United States, not one with power. But there could be one. The images of Egypt, of regular persons wanting freedom for themselves, give examples of how regular persons can stand up against the social constructs to make a better tomorrow. It makes one think that political struggle isn't an entirely depressing affair.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I've stated on here that I believe rationality ought to be part of politics. I go so far as to say that I am a sort of rationalist. I say "sort of" because "Reason", "rationality", and so on, don't mean the same thing to everyone. Not only do people disagree with the meaning and implications of rationalism, they also feel divided on the issue. My "sort of" is rhetorical: I mean to say "reserve your judgment for after you hear me out"

I believe that rationality can be summed up with a single, simple maxim: Find reasons for your beliefs which are logically consistent. When you can no longer do this, acknowledge this, but continue to reflect on this hinge proposition.

There are no appeals to a universal "making-sense-ness" within the heads of reasonable persons. There is no pointing at the unreasonable, or routing out the irrational, or exercise of epistemic chauvinism. That isn't to say that rationality can't or hasn't been used for these or other negative ends. It certainly can. However, rationality is, in the end, a loose position. It is this looseness that I wish to point out.

Suppose I claimed that I believed in God. If someone then asked why, I would say, "Because I experience his existence every day" If they retorted, "Why don't I experience this, if he is so wonderful?" I would reply, "I am ignorant. I wish he made this known to me, but I'm afraid that I can't say"

This is a rational position. It is a position I disagree with, but it is a rational position. It is epistemically rational. There is a difference between rationality and proof. Having reasons for your beliefs, finding warrant, and applying these constitently is all that is required to be rational. "Proof" is the deduction of a position from axioms. However, argument, and reasons for positions, are much more varied than deductive systems. One may only use deductive systems to justify their position, but it's not necessary for rationality.

I chose "God" because I'm mostly speaking to that group of persons who think that concluding that God does not exist is the only conclusion a rational person who is honest or not arguing for "Feel-good" constructs could come to. Rationality is not so restrictive that the atheist/agnostic/materialist/whatever world-view is a for-ordained conclusion. Beliefs as divergent as "There is no purpose in the world" or "There is a God" or "The World is nothing but Mind" can be justified underneath the rubric of rationality . We can rationally disagree and discover where, and possibly why, we diverge.

This doesn't reflect on the "truth" of either claim, or any claim within rationality. Rationality and "truth" are two separate issues: At base, if it were true that irrationality is "true", then rationality would be against "truth". All this is intended to do is point out that "rationality" really, really, really doesn't say that much, and that therefore theism, disagree with it or no, can be rational.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

THE experiment of my undergraduate career

... is making a standard curve. Today I came into lab, and we were prepping yet another standard curve. I wonder to myself: Is this what Chemists do? Are we always interested in identifying either the identity or concentrations of some substance? Is this only specific to analytical chemistry, or does it translate elsewhere?

Not that I would really mind, if that were the case. I'm really good at it, now. R^2 values are regularly .999whatever. Standard deviations are regularly quite tolerable, and this is all by hand. But I also keep on thinking: What can I do with these tools? What can I explain within chemistry with this experimental-theoretical framework? Is there really much left in chemistry to pursue outside of explaining things outside of itself, or improving the apparatusus to be more automated, more precise, more accurate, but not novel?

At conferences I've seen a lot of interesting computer modeling projects, where the standard parameters determined experimentally are shown to be able to be calculated from basic quantum mechanically based algorithms -- stuff like the change in gibbs, enthalpy, or energy contributions from solvents, solvent structures, and other modular neatness. But I can't help but think that there has to be some greater theoretical project than simply increasing the resolution of our models, improving the efficiency for identifying substances, or making more accurate estimations of important physical parameters. These would be termed core chemical projects. All other projects seem to involve elucidation of other systems for some other purpose, whether it be interest in a biochemical system, or improvement of some industrial practice.

But I'm stuck as to where, or if I tried something new if it'd even be interesting or desirable to try; PhD's earned in respected fields are likely more marketable, after all. I suppose I could memorize a few more reactions, and what they look like, to be better prepared to identify oddities when I see them, or have a handle on unexpected events at a more intuitive level. But I wonder: What novel thing can chemistry do today?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

For Accommodationism

There is a current amongst the atheist blogs I read regarding accommodationist vs. confrontationalist stances. This is my argument for accommodationism as the superior position of the two.

Confrontationalism lacks any credible epistemic basis to discredit religion at large, and this is, from what I can tell, what it tries to do. If it does not do this, then the following is incorrect. When I say religion at large, I mean all the predominant religious positions within culture today. We'll say Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. Further, it lacks the moral basis to discredit religion at large. These are the two main issues brought against religion by confrontational atheists. I think that these positions are the product of arguing against weak positions, positions I also stand against, but when generalized to all religions then atheism is making too dogmatic a claim. At that point we're talking politics. If politics, then there are more important issues than atheism to discuss, like war, class, capitalism, genocide, health care, gay rights, science education, and so on. Further, there are religious allies to these political causes, and so if politics, then accommodationism is better for supporting these political points, as well as building a healthy pluralistic environment.

On epistemology: The central claim here is that religions are false. The basis that religions are evaluated to be false are scientific claims. However, there exist scientists who are religious. To relegate these scientists to the special, no-counter example corner of "Their beliefs are contradictory" is to play the no true Scotsman card. As such, I have good reason to believe that science does not prove religion false.

To know and to believe are two separate things. To know something requires an argument, whether it be a "negative claim" or not. On "Negatives":I can prove a negative, such as the square root of 2 is not rational. Negatives can be proven via the modus tollens inference, or the proof by contradiction. In fact, the often used problem of evil builds itself on the proof by contradiction. However, I don't think the problem of evil works to prove that God does not exist, but only that God is not in this exact way that some rationalist theists thought he was. But, for the major world religions, you didn't need such a proof by contradiction -- God's nature is explicated in far greater detail within the religious tracts than some simple, vague Three-O reference.

Lastly, there is an emphasis on evidence based claims. Why, and what does it even mean? If all we mean is, "Well, it's nice to have data", then I have no problem. If what we mean is ,"the existence of pH meters proves that God does not exist", then I'm claiming that this is a little senseless. The whole "evidence based claims" meme sounds great as a talking point, works fine against creationism, but could really do with a little more ground work to support it.

On moral claims: Atheists are personally moral, as are many theists. To point to the Catholic abuses of children, the crusades, and so on doesn't say anything. You need to show that religion is the causal culprit. Without a causal argument one must admit that atheism leads to mass murder, as the USSR performed mass murder. Clearly no one in the atheist community believes this, so one should admit that the correlation between theism and child molestation doesn't follow causally.

Further, if the atheists lack an epistemic basis to claim that religion is false, and continue to claim that religion is false for epistemic reasons, then the atheists are loosing moral credibility with respect to truth-claims in that they are demonstrating an inability to self-reflect, which is an important part of moral deliberation.

As neither epistemic or moral claims counter religion as a whole very well, we should get down to the brass tacks of politics. Accommodationism is a superior politic to confrontationalism because it's more honest about our epistemic certainty, it allows bridges to be built between the atheist community and theist communities who are friendly towards the same political end goals, such as gay rights and science education, and it plays a better PR role. In fact, accommodationism is the correct position, not the weak and scared position that's too afraid to "say anything". Accommodationists are skeptical of strong negative claims, and find things outside of metaphysical speculation, such as science education vs. thoughts on the existence of god, to be more important. As the confrontationlists have said, let us not mince words. Religion, at large, can stand on its own two feet, and atheists don't have a good basis to claim that it doesn't do so in its entirety. The confrontationalist position is poorly thought out, lacks self reflection, and the conclusions it purports to prove are simply wrong if it's swinging its rhetoric at religion as a whole. As such, accommodationism is the only position that is epistemically and morally worthwhile, whether or not confrontationalists are angry about this fact or not. While there are some religions that deserve scorn and derision, the claim that all major religions are false is simply an unsupported belief.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Weighing in on a national tragedy in an uncomfortable way

There has been much talk about the shooting of Representative Giffords and the death of innocent bystanders. Many causal sources have been proposed:

CSM reports that Europe believes that the political climate in general is at fault, and this is due to America's decline in power and its failure in two world wars. link
Sarah Palin and extreme Right-wing rhetoric link
Public School systems link
Ayn Rand, Mein Kampf, Das Kapital, and George Orwell link
Some "They do it, too!" from the right link
Some point to gun laws link

As long as we're weighing in political opinions, I might as well take a swing: the shooters actions are a clear indictment of capital. Capitalism encourages news sources to instead offer flash, fiction, and meta-commentary that conform to our predispositions -- this brings in a larger market share of viewers. The need for counter-factuals, scientific inquiry, and criticism is abolished. All that matters in every walk of life is profit. This drive for profit increases the number of persons, which, due to our limited capacity as thinkers, increases the number of sub-cultures which develop. Capitalism, in pursuit of the greater spectacle, further exacerbates these sub-groups so that they lose more and more common pragmatic rules of communication that are a necessary precondition for rational discourse. Each sub-group obtains its own epistemic values and assigns a differing distribution of weight to facts presented, which creates discontinuities between large groups of people. These discontinuities are further exacerbated when we attempt rational discourse, and noise is generated.

The internet is not to blame. This internet is to be praised for making this reality more apparent.

With noise, misinformation, confusion, political turmoil, meta-commentary, and economic hardship comes a climate that generates a person willing to shoot a politician for unknown, indistinct, un-rational reasons. And, for those thinking this a ridiculous causal hypothesis, I couldn't agree more. But I ask you this: Is this a better explication than anything offered so far?

If we were really interested in causal factors, then we'd likely wait on police reports or turn to the field of psychology. Everything offered in the news thus far has been sociology/politics. We're using the event to construct a narrative which argues for our politics -- we have a political axe to grind. I don't think this is even necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps we should reevaulate our rhetoric in light of having what that rhetoric means being shown to us. We should certainly reevaluate the role capitalism plays in everything complained of so far, such as irrational political discourse. However, as I am a proponent of rationality within political discourse, I think it best to understand that the news presented thus far has been political speculation -- like metaphysical speculation, but less structured.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Central Dogma

In Biochemistry, the above is known as "The Central Dogma". It used to be the case that we thought RNA, once transcribed as RNA stayed as RNA and that it could never be the case that RNA became DNA. Whether this was the case for reasons of convenience or it was genuinely thought to be impossible, I have no clue, but such a statement does have a "dogmatic" feel to it and so I always took that to be a reason why it was called a Dogma.

The other reason, which is related to it being a central dogma, is that it forms the conceptual basis for a basic biochemical analysis of DNA expression. First one learns what DNA, RNA, and Protein are, and then one learns that this is the general outline by which DNA is expressed into RNA, and the general outline of protein tranlsation from RNA. As has oft been repeated, DNA can be thought of as a code which expresses a sequence of RNA bases, which in turn generates proteins through a well modulated and specific chemical reaction. There are four RNA bases, each of which has a complement on DNA. These four bases form "codons", which are the basis of the genetic code for all life known to date.

A Codon is a sequence with three bases in it. AUG, for example, forms an RNA codon. As there are four bases and three "slots" for each codon, there are 4^3 possible codons, or 64. These 64 possible codons only code for 20 amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.

Proteins perform many, many functions within the body, and so understanding how proteins are made and transferred through reproduction forms a strong basis for understanding life at the chemical level. There are many, many details to get lost in, and some of the nitty-gritty details are really only known by people in that specific research field. This is why the central dogma is of so much importance: It gives a foundational biochemical reference point to which we can connect all of our other knowledge to.

I said earlier that it used to be thought that DNA makes RNA, end of story. That, now, has changed -- it turns out that we've found enzymes which help to reintegrate RNA back into DNA sequences. This enzyme is called "reverse transcriptase", and it is through mechanisms such as these that viruses infect us. Although, to them, it's not an infection: It's their method of reproducing themselves. A greater understanding of this purely theoretical mechanism can yield practical results in the field of AIDS treatment, which goes to show how a general theoretical question like ,"How does a cell operate at the chemical level?" can possibly lead to practical benefits. Surely this isn't the motivation behind such research, as such research is intrinsically interesting, but it does go to show how intrinsically interesting questions which have no perceived benefit are often connected to practical benefits.

The other thing that the central dogma shows is that even scientific "dogma" can undergo revision. As far as I can tell, whether it was for heuristical reasons or judged to be this way, the central dogma was taken very seriously. Yet, over time, we've had to revise our models given a long series of inquisitive arguments. It can't be emphasized enough that even our most basic scientific descriptions are taken as fallible constructions -- not to dissuade persons from the credibility of scientific work, but to make persons aware of how far a scientific argument can go. The word "science" has often been used to legitimize, and pointing out how actual science is full of qualifiers -- like "may", "could be", "might", "I suspect", coupled with complex arguments from difficult to obtain and possibly faulty data to likely rejectable conclusions, at least in so far as it's only a published paper -- can only help the public to critically evaluate scientific claims.

Or, in short, even the most stalwart of scientific constructs have hesitancy involved: If a company or politician may gain by your acceptance of their scientific claims, and they lack this hesitancy, you might want to turn your bologna alarm on and check some alternate sources.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Feminism and Labor Politics

This month's IWW had an excellent article covering the intersection of labor politics and feminism. In particular, it asks some excellent questions for men within the labor movement in a direct, firm, and non-threatening manner. I highly recommend checking it out on the bottom of page 4:

IWW Jan/Feb 2011 Issue

I was very excited to see this issue, because I feel that many disparate left-leaning causes are in many ways fighting the same battle, and it's great to see this sort of crossover. After all, Marx expressed radical feminism, desiring to dismantle family structures and marriage because of their inherent tendency to enslave one class of persons as property to property owners.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Atheism: A Basis

A recent theme that has re-emerged in my life, mostly due to the holidays, has been the philosophic basis for atheism.

Skipping definitions and relying upon common uses for words, the standard question I receive is, "Why don't you believe in God?" As I use the big A word as opposed to the little A word, the question is more earnest, if rarely an attack. The simplest reply that doesn't ruffle feathers is, "I don't have a reason to do so"

But this isn't the entire reason for my atheism. Within my life the God hypothesis has been "falsified", in any sense of the word that this can be meaningful. This isn't to say that God can't be, as clearly falsification isn't the end-all and be-all of enquiry (Or even scientific enquiry). This is only to say that I have always been interested in theology, have prayed, have meditated, have read holy books, have attended several services, and have even had experiences that mirror what others describe as God. If all that one means by "God" is "A feeling of warmth one may experience when at calm or in a particularly beautiful or sublime aesthetic experience which helps guide one to a moral walk in life, albeit confusedly" then sure -- I'm a theist. I felt this long ago in acting, in having sex, in looking at works of art, in philosophy, in science, and so on.

The problem I tend to encounter within countering atheists as well as in speaking with theists is a singular assumption that atheism implies material reductionism: Physics and Determinism are the basis of all reality, and those namby-pamby feelings are merely illusions to which you are a slave to!But are they?What exactly is meant by "Real"? What does this word connote, denote, mean, and why is the scientific description of the world MORE real than, say, a person’s theological standpoint? Does "Reality" admit of degrees? Is the one "noumenally Real", and the other merely "Phenomonon"? I certainly do not think this is the case. Further, on the basis of "Occam's Razor" no dualisms are permittable (though I have other reasons to stand against dualism). If an atheist rejects Occam's razor, but is still a material reductionist, that would be a person whom I'd be interested in having a discussion with. The first question in this paragraph will be my starting point for arguing contra material reductionism.

So, why atheism? While theism can mean many, many, many things, and I'm certainly open to this sort of a discussion, theism, within America, still has a very simplistic basis that has a very strong influence on American culture. To those theists that find the atheists out of bounds: I encourage you to speak. You should be more offended by this simplistic theism that is easily refuted, thereby inspiring the hubris of atheists, than atheists are -- yet it is the atheists who are speaking.

What do I mean by simplistic theism? A theism unconsidered, that uses an elementary notion of faith as a shield against questioning. A theism whose only recourse to scientific argument is to reference the infallibility of the Bible. A theism that is tied to Republican politics (as opposed to a theist who is also a Republican). A theism that can't find a love in their heart for homosexuality. A theism that claims to know God. These are simplistic theisms, and in comparison to the high-and-mighty self proclaimed horse of the atheists, the atheist position, while not merely negative and thereby in need of argumentation, comes across as stronger.

As for my argument: I don't think God is either non-falsifiable or incomprehensible, in the same way that I don't think that matter is incomprehensible or non-falsifiable. What I do think, however, is that arguments for God tend to put the cart before the horse -- they are decided beforehand. Now, this can mean one of two things, as far as I can tell: One, God is simply a metaphor for understanding the world, an interpretive lens that provides categories through which one may communicate on a pragmatic basis with other believers, or interpret certain contexts such as morality and judgment to pragmatic ends. Two: God is a presupposition which one believes in not by choice, but is "triggered" by background, environment, and personal characteristics. I find neither condition blameworthy, mutually exclusive, nor does either actually negate the possibility of the standard metaphysical God. But such descriptions of theism and God are the reasons why I am an atheist. Theistic culture, from my perspective, confusedly shifts the referent of God from the culture and values themselves to a grand metaphysical system of rewards and punishment that has, in my interpretation, immoral implications. If there were no metaphysical construct giving these moral precepts an infallibility, then there may be room for discourse to change them in light of new contexts. But there is no such device within the theism which influences a large number of Americans.

Epistemically, I have no argument contra theism. I have no problem with hinge propositions. However, with Kant, I argue that God is implicated by morality -- yet the morality of our modern Gods is immoral, and I refuse to consent to such a Kingdom of Ends. Ergo, I am not a mere epistemic agnostic; though epistemically I have qualms here and there with the atheists, to me ethics is a stronger compulsion for acting than epistemology. As far as I can tell, to make an argument from an internal perspective, the first commandment has been broken: other Gods have been placed before God -- God, the symbol, for the culture of men. And so Atheism, not as a simple pondering of the Problem of Evil (which, if one accepts God, I don't think is a problem; Leibniz's Best of All Possible Worlds and all that razzle-dazzle), is a moral choice against a deeply Christian nation. I have no desire to abolish all of God, though I don't believe in him. But I certainly wish to negate those who use what could be a beautiful concept for some towards alienating homosexuality, promoting patriarchy and militarism, creating an Other in Islam, supporting Capitalism, and generally promoting right-wing politics. And, as things sit, a large enough number of theists make the atheist camp more worthwhile.

Additionally, I just find sleeping in on Sunday and premarital sex to be more holy than falling asleep on a hard wooden pew and lying about not having premarital sex.