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philosophy

Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.


By Wislawa Szymborska
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

switchtrackJane Average is standing at a railway switch as an oncoming train rapidly approaches from the left. Just beyond her is a fork in the track. Five innocent people, unaware of the train, are standing on the left fork. One innocent man is standing on the right. If Jane does nothing, the train will veer to the left and kill the five people. If she throws the switch, the train will veer to the right and kill the man. Should she do it? She must decide instantly: Yes, she will.

Now Jane is standing on an open footbridge that crosses a track. A large man is beside her. A runaway train is approaching at high speed. Just beyond the bridge, behind her, five people are standing on the track. The only way to save them is to push the large man immediately off the bridge into the train's path. Will she do it? Her answer comes right away: "No!"

Why is this so? According to Joshua D. Greene, a graduate student of philosophy, who played around with a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, the brain creates an emotional block at the prospect of personally shoving a man to his death. Tiny spots in the frontal and parietal lobes light up strongly as the dilemma is considered--the same regions that light up during fear or grief. Although philosophers have long held that people use practical reasoning to make moral judgments, Greene says" these pictures show that emotions play an important role." During the experiments, neurons in the "emotional" regions were nearly silent when the test subjects had to ponder "only" the flipping of a switch. But when the volunteers had to imagine themselves pushing the man, the emotional regions became quite active. In addition, brain regions responsible for working memory, which are active during the ordinary manipulation of information, were considerably less active when subjects wrestled with the more difficult moral questions.

To me, pushing the man from the bridge is not an option, since I would be afraid of having to spend the rest of my life behind bars (this is not so evident in the first setting). Actually, I doubt that anybody would incorporate the man on the bridge in the solution-finding process if confronted with such a situation in real life.

via Scientific American (Mind - Special Edition)

PARADOX

In a world where most people believe in the supernatural, theological arguments are often disturbingly relevant. This article reviews the arguments for theism, agnosticism, and atheism most commonly encountered in everyday life.

stolen from chickworld_uk's FAQ.

I hate that question! It is the sort of question only ever asked by smugly patronising over-intellectuals to people they consider too stupid to understand when they are being crudely psycho-analysed through metaphor. Why the hell don't they just ask "Do you consider yourself an optimistic person or a pessimistic person?", answer: because they like being willfully obscure because it gives them a vain feeling of superiority. They are fooling nobody and the question doesn't even work in it's purpose, I will explain. The answer to the question depends more on the situation than on the mental state of the person questioned. For instance if you were to walk into a public house, order and pay for the pint of your preferance only to be presented with a half filled glass then you would be annoyed and disappointed, the glass contains only half of what you had expected and hoped for. You would regard the content of the glass as inadequate and thus half empty. If, however, you were at home and felt the need for some small refreshment and were to pour yourself half a glass of your favourite drink then your perception of the glass would be different. Although the amount of liquid in this example may be the same as in the last example your answer would be different, it was your choice to only fill half the glass because that was all you desired and so in this situation half a glass is quite adequate and thus you would regard the glass as half full. This proves that the answer to the question depends more on the glass in question than on the person, thus rendering the questions ability to reveal the persons mental state as useless. Let no more be said on the subject.

Valdis Krebs created a network map (takes some time loading) of political books based on purchase patterns from major web book retailers. In the diagram, two books are linked if they were bought together at a major retailer on the web. He calls these 'buddy books'. A link was drawn if either book of a pair listed the other as a buddy. The data made public by the retailer shows just the 'best buddies' -- the strongest ties. Notice how few books link the clusters. Red and Blue. Black and White.

Via Marginal Revolution