Luc Bovens

Aug 312004

I just heard that Luc Bovens has decided to stay in London in his awesome job at The London School of Economics. I’m sorry that he won’t be returning to Boulder, as I really enjoyed his Ethics course my first year. Plus, it’s distressing to lose yet another professor in our already deficient department. Nonetheless, I wish him all the best!

George W. Bush is a Fascist

Aug 292004

No, I don’t actually believe my own headline. But if you want to understand why some folks on the left do, you might find this “analysis” illuminating. It’s from a world in which September 11th never happened.

Speaking of the left, I was determined not to watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, as a regard him as an worthless ideologue more than willing to bend and twist the truth to suit his purposes. Unfortunately, the film is part of the Introduction to Ethics course that I’m TA’ing this semester. So I’ll be seeing it (with my professor and my fellow TAs) this Thursday. Apart from David Kopel’s long analysis of its deceits, where might I find other interesting commentaries on it?

Moore’s film is actually going to be the background for a debate that all five TAs will conduct on 9/11 and its aftermath over the course of two days of regular class. As I’m sure to be the only hawk, I’ve been reading Daniel Pipes’ Militant Islam Reaches America for some background, which has proven most illuminating. Any other highly recommended sources? In particular, which works on the subject from the Ayn Rand Bookstore might be worth reviewing?

Happily, Yaron Brook is coming to the Boulder campus to speak on the morality of war on September 23rd. Here’s the synopsis:

The Morality of War by Dr. Yaron Brook

As the death toll of American troops continues to mount, this three-year-long war, we are told, must drag on for years to come–and demand even greater sacrifices of our soldiers. At home, we are urged to accept the inevitability of further catastrophic terrorist attacks. Is military victory within our reach? And, if it is, then why must so many of our soldiers–and more civilians–die?

Why does Washington seem to care more about avoiding civilian casualties in Baghdad than in New York? Why does it fear torturing prisoners of war, if that could save American lives?

In this passionately reasoned lecture, Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute explains why America’s war is being sabotaged. He blames the moral code of Altruism–embodied in the “just-war” theory–that drives Washington’s battle plans. It is this code of warfare that explains why victory is within our reach, but consciously forfeited.

But, as Dr. Brook argues, there is an alternative–a morality of war that leads to unequivocal and swift victory. Drawing upon Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, he advocates a morality of war based on the principles of rational egoism. It is a practicable, rational solution to the threats from Islamic totalitarianism.

Unfortunately, the lecture will take place after all of the debate in class is done and the students have turned in their short papers on the subject. Regardless, I hope to entice at least a few of my students to attend his lecture.


Aug 282004

I’m a horrid proofreader. My mind just seems to fill in the gaps, leap over repetitions, and gloss over the errors. So I liked this advice on proofreading from an article on tricks of trades:

If you’re reading too fast, your brain can “correct” typos, preventing you from catching them. That’s why it’s sometimes a good idea to read a page upside-down. It forces you to pay closer attention to individual words out of context, and you can’t race through pages too fast.

And no, I didn’t turn my computer upside-down to check this post. (Via GeekPress.)

Common Sense

Aug 272004

In the face of this delightful news story, elitism seems like a bad option:

LONDON (Reuters) – A cleaner at London’s Tate Britain modern art gallery threw out a bag of garbage which formed part of an artwork because it was thought to be trash, British newspapers reported Friday.

The transparent bag of garbage — full of newspaper, cardboard and other bits of paper — formed part of a work by German-born artist Gustav Metzger called “Recreation Of First Public Demonstration Of Auto-Destructive Art.”

It was on display next to a sheet of nylon that had been spattered with acid, and a metal sculpture on a table when a cleaner tossed it out with the other trash.

A Tate spokesman said the mistake was made the day before the exhibition opened at the end of June, and although the bag was later rescued, it had been damaged and Metzger had to replace it with another one.

The newspapers said the spokesman would not reveal how much the bag had cost to replace.

“It’s now covered over at night so it can’t be removed,” the spokesman told the Times.

Oh, I’m sure it cost lots of money to replace. After all, transparent bags of garbage don’t grow on trees!

Three cheers for the janitor with enough common sense to throw out the trash!

Why I’m So Much Cooler Than Paul, Reason #28737

Aug 272004

Tonight, I didn’t much feel like running. But I decided to at least run a few miles, since I didn’t have a chance to do so yesterday. (I had reading to do before my day of classes at Boulder, then a headache once I returned home.) As it turned out, I got into a nice groove fairly early on. And so I ran… and ran… and ran… eight miles in all. That’s two miles more than I’ve ever run before — and one mile more than Paul has ever run. My wind and my muscles could have easily run longer, but my knee was complaining, so I had to quit. I’m not a very fast runner, so I’m quite pleased with my time of just under 88 minutes.

All in all, I’m feeling rather pleased with myself this evening. Of course, I’m not nearly as cool as John Enright, but at least I’m cooler than Paul. Heh.

Funny, my best running seems to be on days when I don’t much feel like running. What a nice incentive that is!

More on Volition

Aug 272004

In light of the present debate about volition raised by my two questions, I thought it would be both useful and interesting to post some of my notes on the topic from Barbara Branden’s NBI course Principles of Efficient Thinking, Tape Two (“Focusing and Problem Solving”). Despite my present view of Barbara Branden, I do recommend listening to the course, as it includes much material not discussed elsewhere in the Objectivist corpus. In particular, I think the five levels of focus nicely differentiate focus from concentration. (Warning: As these are only lecture notes, I cannot guarantee perfect accuracy.)

There are not merely two primary states of consciousness, being in focus or being out of focus. Rather, there are a variety of mental states between these two extremes. Also, a person can be in a mixture of levels of focus or rapidly alternating between levels. There are five major levels of focus:

1. Passive daze: A person is seeing and hearing what is going on, but not identifying those events in any conceptual terms. Recounting those events later would be difficult, not because the mind was elsewhere, but because the mind was nowhere. This is probably the lowest level of consciousness possible.

2. Passive identification: A person is conceptually identifying what is going on, but not integrating, judging, or identifying the meaning of those events. The knowledge necessary to make judgments is available, but unused. Because judgments are not made, the resulting gap is filled in with emotions and/or the opinions of others. This is the level of awareness of the social metaphysician; by not forming judgments, there is no possibility of their judgments clashing with the judgments of others.

3. Arbitrary focus: A person is identifying and judging what is going on, but not integrating. The mind is conceptually active and purposeful, but arbitrarily selective concerning the objects of focus. Awareness is fractured and splintered, as the person is constantly going in and out of focus. The resulting incomplete awareness warps a person’s judgments, such as when a person judges someone to be of good moral character due to one good deed or character trait. The primary cause of this state of awareness is that the person allows emotions (or chance) to determine what is focused upon. One secondary cause is evasion; a person might not want to think about something unpleasant, and so goes out of focus rather than think about it. Another secondary cause is unidentified emotions or fear. This level of awareness is not the same as purposeful selective focus. In this state of arbitrary focus, a person focuses only on selected objects and is in a daze about everything else. In order for a selective focus to be rational, there must be a reason for the selectivity, awareness of the selectivity, no need to act upon the facts not focused on, and no need to pass a judgment upon the facts no focused on. The crucial issue here is that a person must always be in focus and that the person’s values determine the object of their focus. A person must be aware of all the relevant aspects of a situation and never blur out important details, as the arbitrary focus level of consciousness does.

4. Unsharpened awareness: A person is conceptually identifying, judging, and integrating, but only in broad outline. No new knowledge, connections, or integrations are being integrated. If events are more subtle or complicated than past thinking, then those peculiarities will not be grasped. This level of consciousness is not active, independent, or creative. The person is not aware of the limits of their knowledge or that there is more to be known. An extreme example is seen in some people who cannot seem to grasp an idea simply because it is new.

5. Full mental clarity: A person is conceptually identifying, judging, integrating, and connecting the full conceptual meaning of every aspect of reality with which one is dealing.

The level of awareness is the degree of active cognitive integration in which the mind is engaged.

The lecture also touches upon the question of why people choose not to focus. Branden offers six reasons for that choice:

1. It requires effort, which on the very short term, is not worth exerting.

2. Some people enjoy being unfocused.

3. The effort of focusing might not be regarded as worthwhile even in the long term.

4. Acting on impulse and whim is sometimes regarded as more exciting, interesting, and romantic than acting on reason.

5. Sectioning off an area of reality as unknowable means that thinking is regarded as useless.

6. Believing oneself to not be smart enough to understand something means that thinking is useless.

All very interesting!

An Oddly Positive Reference to Ayn Rand

Aug 262004

I suppose that I’m so used to seeing random snarky comments about Ayn Rand via my Google News Alert that I found this positive reference in a commentary on Michael Phelps to be almost surreal:

The other American swimmers have to be in awe of how Phelps locked in on every challenge like it was a thief poised to steal one of his legendary breakfast spreads at Pete’s Grill in Waverly.

Whether or not Phelps embraces Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, he certainly is a living example of someone who pursues excellence without compromise.

That’s why he was not afraid to challenge Australia’s Ian Thorpe in the 200 freestyle at the Olympics in a much ballyhooed race in which Phelps finished with “only” a bronze medal.

Hooray for excellence without compromise!

Two Questions About Volition

Aug 252004

Over the past few months, I’ve been occasionally contemplating the following two questions in the context of the Objectivist theory of volition. So I thought I’d throw them out for general consideration.

  • The choice to focus or not, as our fundamental volitional choice, does not have an efficient cause. But does it have a final cause? In other words, is the choice to focus motivated by the goal of grasping reality? Similarly, are the respective purposes of evasion and drift to avoid unpleasant facts and avoid mental effort? Introspectively, such final causation certainly coheres with my own experience. And if the choice to focus or not is not so motivated, then the act of focusing or not would seem to be arbitrary and without moral significance. Yet sometimes Objectivist scholars speak as if the choice to focus is not motivated, as if that would mean that its not free.
  • What is the relationship between our primary choice (to focus or not) and our derivative choices (e.g. to drive to the store for milk or not, to run three or four miles, to tickle one’s spouse or not)? Given our background context of knowledge and psycho-epistemology, are the derivative choices wholly determined by the ongoing choice to think or not? If not, then what is the relationship between the choice to focus and our other choices? Is some more primitive form of choice involved in ordinary choices?

    Although I haven’t recently reviewed the Objectivist literature on these topics, I have noticed that seemingly contradictory answers to these questions are often advanced by Objectivist scholars. Hence, my questions.

My New Palm

Aug 252004

Last week, Elliot knocked my Sony Clie off the high kitchen counter onto the wood floor. It didn’t survive the fall; its input sensor was totally off kilter. I wasn’t exactly heartbroken, as I had wanted to replace it for a while. It worked well enough, but it was big and clunky with a short battery life.

Today, my Tungsten E arrived. I’m in love already. It’s speedy. It’s roomy. It’s slim. It’s light. It is not burdened with all of those useless-to-me bells and whistles of larger, heavier, and costlier moders.


Tenth Anniversary

Aug 232004

Ten years ago today, Paul and I met for the very first time for dinner in St. Louis. I was a sophmore at WashU, not yet even a philosophy major, not yet even 20 years old. Paul had just returned to the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology as an attending physician after his year of MRI fellowship in Los Angeles. While still in Los Angeles, Paul noticed that I was in St. Louis from my posts on alt.philosophy.objectivism. The rest is history.

If, on that evening ten years ago, someone had told me that I would be insanely happy married to that geeky Asian doctor with the unpronouncable name whom I watched walk up to my apartment building with a spring in his step from my second-story window, I would have died of shock. Yet here I am, Mrs. Paul Hsieh. Go figure.

It’s been a good ten years, Mr. Woo.

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