Not surprisingly, people sometimes think that philosophy and running are an odd mix. Philosophers are generally pictured as inactive, unhealthy folks who smoke and drink wine while wondering whether they exist or not. Runners are generally pictured as annoyingly healthy people who know that they exist.
However, philosophy and running go great together, mostly.
First, it has been shown that running (and other, “lesser” aerobic sports) actually make a person smarter. It enhances the brain and its capabilities. Since philosophy requires thinking, being smarter is certainly a big plus. Of course, people do say to me: “If running makes you so smart, why are you out there running in the rain, Socrates?” An excellent question, to which I reply “why are you out here asking me questions in the rain?”
Second, aside from watching out for cars, broken glass and roots, the mind does not have a great deal to do while running. Hence, all that idle brain power (also enhanced by running) can be devoted to thinking about philosophical matters as well as other important things (like what to have for breakfast).
Of course, sometimes my philosophical nature is at odds with my running nature. From a rational standpoint, I should not run through injuries and I should rest more. Reason tells me this. But my running nature is to run and to do so even when it is clearly irrational. Or, to put it in the words of a friend “for a smart guy, you do some stupid stuff when it comes to running.”
I can say that I have gotten better about it over the years. For example, I ran after having my wisdom teeth pulled (I had no idea that it would be so hard to breath with my mouth packed with gauze), I ran when I had food poisoning (I found out that I could still run and throw up at the same time-a useful skill), I ran after some minor surgery (thus learning that blood loss makes it harder to run), and so on. Now, with years of wisdom, I would do things different. To be specific, I would run less distance under those conditions. Clearly my rational side has triumphed.
According to the latest figures, 47 million Americans (our of 300 million) lack health insurance. Given the high cost of medicine, this seems to be a serious problem.
In some cases, those without such coverage are actually reasonably well off. For example, I have friends who work state jobs that pay very well but do not provide benefits. Such people can afford to pay for basic services, but something serious could completely devastate them.
Most of those without insurance probably are not in very good financial straits. After all, most people get health insurance as soon as they can afford it or when their job provides it. For such people even basic care might be beyond their limited means. People do point out that hospitals cannot turn people away, but going to the emergency room for basic ailments is hardly an effective solution.
One problem with the situation is the fact that people actually do need insurance. After all, we do not need insurance for other basics, such as food. This is because food is generally priced so people can afford it. Of course, some aspects of medicine are justifiably expensive-MRI machines, for example, don’t come cheap. However, costs are rather high and perhaps needlessly so.
Will National Health care help?
Well, it depends on what it actually does and does not do. But, to keep it simple, consider the basic plan of requiring everyone to have insurance.
On one hand, this can be good thing. After all, with insurance people will presumably be able to afford medial care.
On the other hand, there are two obvious problems. First, there is the matter of paying for such coverage. Of course, we can always raise taxes and take out more foreign loans. China, I’m sure, would be happy to loan us more money. Second, there is the concern that such insurance will raise medical costs even more than they are now, thus making the insurance less useful.
Martin Luther King, Jr. day is an excellent day on which to reflect about matters of race, equality and ethics. Many of the goals that Dr. King set out to accomplish were achieved. Our world is now a better place thanks to his efforts and the efforts he inspired in others. Though he was murdered, his dream survived in the hearts and minds of others and the struggle for goodness and justice continues to this day.
America has come far since that terrible day when an assassin’s bullet took his life. One of the strongest testaments to this fact is that a black American is a serious contender for the Presidency of the United States. One of the strongest testaments to the fact that we still have far to go is the fact that his being black matters so much. Race is still, obviously, very much an issue these days.
While the past year was spiked with racist incidents, the signs of progress are still there. We have marched forward since the 1960s. The promised land is still out of sight, but each step takes us closer to it. Though I will never see it, I still believe and hope that there will be a day when the dream is a reality. I have faith in us and our capacity for goodness.
While I am against pollution, carbon credits (and similar schemes) seem unlikely to do more than create more corruption.
In general terms, carbon credits work like this (there are many possible variations): a government decides that it will allow X amount of carbon production and then breaks X up into units that can be purchased. Those producing carbon on a large scale (such as oil companies) need to buy these units so they can produce carbon. Under some plans, each company that produces carbon is also given Y units of carbon it can produce. If it produces less, it can then sell these carbon credits to other businesses. In general terms, it makes pollution “rights” a commodity that can be bought and sold.
Europe has created a market in which carbon can be traded. The result, as anyone with knowledge of how the world actually works expected, was that politically powerful companies were able to make new profits by exploiting the situation. To use one example, the German government gave credits to coal burning plants and these companies charged their customers for the the carbon costs. Since the companies paid nothing for these credits, they made a nice profit on this little trick. The carbon trade market also allows for some clever profiteering in other ways-such as getting carbon credits and then selling them at a vastly inflated rate.
Thus, the main result of the carbon credit system has been what one would expect: corruption, profiteering and business as usual. Perhaps it has helped cut down on carbon emissions, but it seems unlikely it has had a major impact.
Does this mean that efforts to combat pollution should be abandoned? Of course not. The negative effects of pollution are well established and these harms, like any harms, should be countered. The trick, perhaps the impossible trick, is finding a way to do this without creating more corruption and profiteering.
One fundamental scientific and philosophical problem is determining how life began on earth as well as the probability of such a thing happening. Those who favor a purposeful universe point to the existence of life as evidence for said purpose-they claim that the odds of life just happening are far too long to explain otherwise. Those who favor that life just happened need to provide an account of how it just happened and typically want to discuss the probability of the event.
In 1970 Jacques Monod (a biologist and winner of a Nobel prize) wrote “Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance.” This quote nicely expressed the dominant scientific view of the time: the emergence of life on earth was 1) the result of chance and 2) a matter of such amazingly low probability that it most likely never occurred elsewhere. Of course, even if the probability of life were extremely low, it would still be a hasty inference to conclude what Monod concluded. It is, after all, a big universe.
While this view still enjoys some popularity, some scientists have started accepting the view expressed by Christian de Duve (a biochemist) who calls life a “cosmic imperative” and asserts that it should appear on any earth like world. Given that he has a sample of one (earth) to work with, his assertion is amazingly bold. This hypothesis is sometimes called “biological determinism” (not to be confused with the determinism in the free will debate, of course).
Finding life on another world, such as Mars, or even finding signs that life appeared multiple times on one world (such as earth) would help support the biological determinism hypothesis. Of course, it would require finding multiple worlds like earth with life on them to make accepting the hypothesis reasonabl. After all, finding a few worlds with life in a vast universe would be consistent with the claim that life arises by pure chance and at a very low probability.
As a philosopher, I find the debate quite interesting. After all, it is replaying debates that occurred centuries ago in philosophy regarding the nature of reality. It will be interesting to see the proposed mechanism for biological determinism. Naturally, it does seem to stray into the area of classic, Aristotelian style teleology. Of course, I think humans find that irresistible. For example, even those devoted to evolution find it almost impossible to avoid straying into talk of purpose.
While most scientists think that the notion of Bigfoot is a matter probably best left to bad shows on the Sci-Fi channel, Jeffrey Meldrum takes the possibility of bigfoot seriously. Meldrum has excellent credentials and is a noted expert in the field of primate and hominid anthropology. However, many of his fellow scientists are dismayed by his willingness to investigate bigfoot in scientific terms.
The general consensus is that bigfoot is merely a myth, despite the fact that there is some evidence that supports the claim that such a creature exists. On one hand, it is hard to imagine such a creature so effectively evading detection for such a long period of time. On the other hand, there are precedents for such creatures. On occasion, a new species (or a species thought extinct) is found. If the bigfoot creatures are intelligent, they might be able to avoid searchers and also hide their dead (a major strike against the bigfoot view is that no bodies have been found).
While it seems unlikely that bigfoot exists, there is enough evidence to make it a phenomenon worth investigating using scientific methodology. Also, if people can talk seriously about odd metaphysical entities (though they say they are doing science, they are really doing classical metaphysics…only with a bigger budget) such as “super strings”, “multiple universes”, and “dark matter” and still be seen as respectable scientists, I think the same courtesy should be extended to Meldrum.
A study reported in the September 24 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that humans pay greater attention to animals than to other things (such as vehicles). In the December 2007 Scientific American, Charles Q. Choi commented on the study (page 37) saying that “visual priorities of our hunter-gatherer ancestors evidently remain embedded in the modern brain, regardless of how relatively useless they often are now.”
I found this comment rather odd, especially given the fact that the researchers themselves noticed that humans paid more attention to other humans as well. First, since we interact with humans all the time, we would have a great deal of experience observing humans. Since animals are similar to humans (more similar than cars, certainly) our experience with humans would extend analogically to animals. Also, many people have pets and hence also have ongoing interaction with animals. Second, the humans and animals we interact with tend to be more important to us than non-living things. Further, my truck rarely demands my attention but my pets and friends do so regularly. Second, since we interact with humans and animals on a regular basis, these perceptual abilities are hardly useless.