Saturday, August 27, 2005

Unfurling the Sails

On July 8th, I started a serious hunt for an English teaching job in South Korea. Two days from now, I'm leaving on jet plane. I'll fly through Chicago, Tokyo, and finally land in Incheon International Airport. All economy. May God have mercy on my soul.

I'm sitting here in my brother's Brampton house just killing time. Boredom is going to set in very soon. But just temporarily. Two days. Two days.

This is going to be an interesting year. Yesterday, I had a little preview of what it is going to be like. I had three stops to make: get my flight ticket from a Sears store in Brampton, declare an extended absence from Ontario at the OHIP office in Etobicoke, and pick up my work visa from the Korean Consulate in downtown Toronto.

It very quickly dawned on me that I know nothing about Toronto. A friend graciously drove me to the Sears store and the OHIP office; if she hadn't been available, finding bus and subway routes would have been a bit frustrating. Getting to the Consulate myself wasn't difficult; there was a subway stop right beside the OHIP office. It was getting back to Brampton that was tedious; finding the right Go-Train, and then deciding which bus would bring me closest to my brother's house. Without knowing any of the routes and only a handful of street names, it took some figuring.

Which is all to illustrate that getting around in a new place isn't easy. Finding my way about Incheon and Soeul will take a lot of getting used to. Hopefully it'll be old hat a month in.

I'm not sure exactly what my teaching schedule will be; it looks like I'll mostly be doing afternoon shifts. Which means a little bit of kindergarten, and a lot of elementary. Fine by me. I've packed stickers and an alphabet bingo game; seems like they'll be useful.

I'm going to have to live like a monk, at least for the first little while. I'll have a credit card and a laptop I need to payoff.

It occurs to me I don't know anything about Korean food. I'm going to have to learn cheap and easy recipies. Chocolate Lab flambe, perhaps.

Photos will come when I get a digital camera - that's a month or two away.

That's about all for now. I'll post an update in a week or so.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Albert Camus: Resistance, Rebellion, and Death

This was written by Albert Camus in 1958. Algeria was in the process of throwing off French rule, and it was a bloody, vicious affair. I think much of what he says is relevant in our comtemporary clash with violent extremists. This article could easily be written today, substituting relevant names and events.

"When the fate of men and women of one's own blood is bound, directly or indirectly, to the articles one writes in the comfort of the study, one has a right to hesitate and to weigh the pros and cons. In my case, if I am aware that in criticizing the course of the rebellion I risk justifying the most brazen instigators of the Algerian drama, I never cease fearing that, by pointing out the long series of French mistakes, I may, without running any risk myself, provide an alibi for the insane criminal who may throw his bomb into an innocent crowd that includes my own family. I went so far as to admit this fact baldly in a recent declaration which was commented upon most strangely. But anyone who does not know the situation I am talking about can hardly judge of it. And if anyone, knowing it, still thinks heroically that one's brother must die rather than one's principles, I shall go no further than to admire him from a distance. I am not of his stamp.

This does not mean that principles have no meaning. An opposition of ideas is possible, even with weapons in hand, and it is only fair to recognize one's opponent's reasons even before defending oneself against him. But on both sides a reign of terror, as long as it lasts, changes the scale of values. When one's own family is in immediate danger of death, one may want to instill in one's family a feeling of greater generosity and fairness, as these articles clearly show; but (let there be no doubt about it!) one still feels a natural solidarity with the family in such mortal danger and hopes that it will survive at least and, by surviving, have a chance to show its fairness. If that is not honour or true justice, then I know nothing that is of any use in this world.

Only from such a position have we the right and the duty to state that military combat and repression have, on our side, taken on aspects that we cannot accept. Reprisals against civilian populations and the use of torture are crimes in which we are all involved. The fact that such things could take place among us is a humiliation we must henceforth face. Meanwhile, we must at least refuse to justify such methods, even on the score of efficacy. The moment they are justified, even indirectly, there are no more rules or values; all causes are equally good, and war without aims or laws sanctions the triumpth of nihilism. Willy-nilly, we go back in that case to the jungle where the sole principle is violence. Even those who are fed up with morality ought to realize that it is better to suffer certain injustices than to commit them even to win wars, and that such deeds do us more harm than a thousand underground forces on the enemy's side. When excuses are made, for instance, for those who do not hesitate to slaughter the innocent in Algeria or, in other places, to torture or to condone torture, are they not also incalculable errors since they may justify the very crimes we want to fight? And what is that efficacy whereby we manage to justify everything that is more injustifiable in our adversary?"

- Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death

Monday, August 08, 2005

No Archimedean Point

It's our dirty laundry, our family secret, our skeleton in the closet. It gets ignored or glossed over. Usually we go about our daily lives ignoring it altogether.

Knowledge. Just what the hell is it? How can we really say anything for certain? It's a long running debate and no one has come up with a definitive answer.

Every theory of knowledge eventually runs into the same problem - they're all circular. In the final analysis, every system must be believed before it can be accepted.

Empiricists say only the five senses can be trusted, but obviously they can't examine that premise empirically. Rationalists say we are inborn with certain faculties for gathering knowledge, but can't get past Descartes' deceptive demon problem. There is simply no Archimedean point on which we can stand and make statements that are beyond question.

I'm not going to try to solve that problem here. It's way beyond me. I am, however, going to explain how I evaluate truth statements. This post is just an initial introduction.

I guess I'm in the vein of pragmatists. This line of thought had its origin in the 19th-century utilitarians like JS Mills. Mills believed knowledge was developed in a survival of the fittest manner; people entered into a marketplace of ideas, and the most accurate ideas would eventually win out. Mills obviously had a lot of faith in people. I'd say that the marketplace of ideas is necessary for an Open Society, but it isn't an epistemological proving ground.

I say I'm in the vein of pragmatists because I think that each idea we have about the world will sooner or later be tested in some way. For example, on an apparent level our senses are constantly tested. If our eyes or ears are not giving us accurate information, sooner or later we will be hit by a truck. I don't see the point in questioning the existence of existence; try to live it out, and you'll be flattened on the 401. The object, as someone said, will object.

That doesn't vanquish Descartes' demon, and it doesn't prove we don't exist in The Matrix. It does show us, however, that our continued existence is dependant on the accuracy of our five sense. We gain vital, life saving knowledge from empirical observation.

But everyone knows that. Nobody really questions the existence of existence anyways. The stuff we argue about is metaphysical. The stuff that goes beyond the apparent world. And this is what the bulk of human intellectual life is concerned with. The humanities and social sciences are shot through with metaphysical statements, and even the hard sciences are not exempt.

There are three general ideas I want to talk about.

Knowledge, I think, can have a modular nature. By this I mean that each system will make some correct statements, and some false statements. The false statements do not render the entire system false; they must simply be selected out. Survival of the fittest. For example, if a particular system contains a statement like "A = not A", than the whole system does not collapse; but that statement must be rooted out and something else must take its place.

Secondly - and this is where pragmatism is important - if a system does not risk being hit by a truck, then it is a pointless system. What good is knowledge if it doesn't explain the world? I want to know why WWI happened. I want to know what is behind suicide bombings. Tell me why the Earth casts a shadow on the moon.

In other words, if a knowledge system does not take into account and explain events, behaviour patterns and the natural world, then at best it is a logically airtight, free-floating series of utterly useless statements. Systems must make statements that can be contradicted by our experience; if you aren't risking being hit by a truck, then who cares what you are saying? I don't. The whole point of knowledge is give coherence to our experience, and divorcing knowledge from experience is desperate folly.

And thirdly, everything above is nice and idealistic. Even getting hit by a truck. The problem with all of it is, however, that we don't have unmediated access to our experience. I'm not contradicting myself here; I'm explaining a difficultly. Every epistemology must not only have a test for truth, but it must also explain how we gather information in the first place. How, exactly, do we interact with the world, quite apart from any academic methodology?

I've already talked about this. The post on Martin Heidegger and AI is important, and so is the post on Michel Foucault and discourse. Both discuss the practical limits and bounds on our perception of the world.

So, this is the first post in another series - developing a method to explain our world.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Open Texture Contents

Posts by Topic and Date:

Current Events / Politics:

2004 Federal Election Preview - June 13, 2004

2004 Federal Election Aftermath - June 29, 2004

Missile Defense and Abortion - August 25, 2004

Gun Control I - September 1, 2004

Gun Control II - September 17, 2004

Watershed: 2004 U.S. Election Aftermath - November 3, 2004

Book Burnin' - June 7, 2005

Abu Ghraib Isn't Over Yet - July 29, 2005

Bush Family Spirit Guide? - September 20 - 2005

Philosophy / Culture / Ethics

Young Man Syndrome - April 27, 2004

T.V. and Story Telling - May 20, 2004

Kurt Vonnegut - August 12, 2004

Hazing, Dionysian Style - October 13, 2004

Becoming Perplexed - January 30, 2005

Structuralism: 2, Two, II - April 14, 2005

Michel Foucult: Discourse - April 16, 2005

Martin Heidegger: Artificial Intelligence - April 20, 2005

Ernst Cassirer: Magical Language I - July 8, 2005

Ernst Cassirer: Magical Language II - July 13, 2005

Epistemology I: No Archimedean Point - August 8, 2005

Albert Camus: Resistance, Rebellion and Death - August 11, 2005

Evolution / I.D. I: History - September 10, 2005

Postmodern Relativism - September 13, 2005

Evolution / I.D.: Meth/Meta Naturalisms - September 15, 2005

Evolution / I.D.: Falsifiability, Anti-Science, etc. - September 21, 2005

Evolution / I.D.: Scientific Young Earth Creationism - September 30, 2005

Solzhenitsyn on Violence and Falsehood - October 2, 2005

Evolution / I.D.: Intelligent Design - October 3, 2005

Evolution / I.D.: Education Concerns - October 6, 2005

A lazy post about war - October 13, 2005

Creating Yourself and the World (cross indexed to religion) - October 17, 2o05

Philosophy of Law:

Aristotle and Aquinas - April 25, 2005

Austin's Command Theory and Holmes' Realism - April 29, 2005

Hart's Rules Theory - May 13, 2005

Dworkin's Principles - May 25, 2005

Critical Legal Theorists - June 29, 2005

Power and Recognition - July 27, 2005

More Than Just The Text - July 28, 2005


Christian Right Declares War on Homosexuals! - May 4, 2004

Challenging Faith - May 28, 2004

The Bounds of Credulity - July 19, 2004

Augustine on Genesis - July 21, 2004

Slacktivist's Left Behind Archives - April 30, 2005

A Functional Theory of Religion - July 20, 2005

Back in the Game! - October 10, 2005

Creating Yourself and the World (cross indexed to philosophy) - October 17, 2o05


Christopher, Great Big Sea, Spirit of the West - July 6, 2004

The Village - August 3, 2004

Collatoral, Alien vs. Predator, The Exorcist - August 25, 2004

Sarah McLachlan - May 17, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - May 21, 2005

Batman Begins - June 17, 2005


Inaugural Post - April 26, 2004

Saved! Preview

Blogger Book Tag - June 4, 2005