April 25, 2010

Robert Sapolsky: The uniqueness of humans | Video on TED.com

Ihaven't had a chance to watch this yet but he's one of my favorite lecturers on nueropsychology and he's really fun

Robert Sapolsky: The uniqueness of humans | Video on TED.com

April 24, 2010

Pure Metal for Your Mind's Eye!

Cool article stolen from a rss feed on my google reader


And for those of you who are too lazy to click this dudes blog here it is in full

- Talking Philosophy - http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com -

The Nature of Cruelty

Posted By Mike LaBossiere

The notion of cruelty seems to be an important concept in both law and morality. Not surprisingly, what acts count as cruels is a matter of significant debate. My intent here is not to focus on sorting out specific actions or developing a cruelometer. Rather, I am going to address a slightly more abstract issue: whether cruelty requires the capacity to suffer on the part of the victim.

Intuitively, for an action to be cruel, the victim of the action must be capable of suffering. With due apologies to Steve Martin, while there can (perhaps) be cruel shoes, one cannot be cruel to shoes. This, of course, excludes sentient shoes such as Philip K. Dick’s brown oxford.

If this intuition is correct, it would follow that cruelty would be impossible in cases involving beings that cannot suffer from the action in question.

While this intuition holds for inanimate objects such as rocks and shoes, it weakens in the case of living creatures, even when such creatures cannot suffer. For example, the human fetus is not supposed to be able to suffer from pain prior to a certain number of weeks of development. However, it would not seem irrational to speak of such a fetus being subject to cruelty. It would also not seem foolish to speak about certain acts done to brain dead or even dead humans as being acts of cruelty. As a final example, even if certain animals could not suffer (suppose, for example, that Descartes had been right) it would still seem appealing to regard some acts as being cruel to them.

One way to cash out these intuitions would be by asserting that although the actions would not be truly cruel, we regard them as cruel because 1) such acts against a being that could suffer would be cruel and 2) the beings in question (the fetus, the brain dead human, and the animals) are enough like creatures that can suffer.

One way to present a moral argument against such “pseudo cruel” acts is to use Kant’s argument regarding animals: if a person acts in cruel ways towards such entities then his humanity will likely be damaged. Since, as Kant sees it, humans do have a duty to show humanity to other humans, such actions would be wrong. This would not be because the victim was wronged but because humanity would be wronged by the person damaging his humanity through such an action.

Since the argument is based on the psychological effects of the action on the actor, acts against beings that 1) lack the relevant moral status and 2) do not create the psychological effect in question when subject to “cruel” acts would not be wrong and also presumably not cruel. This nicely matches our intuition that one cannot be cruel to rocks.

So, an act can be considered cruel if the being in question can suffer or if the action can affect a normal actor in a way comparable to an act of “true” cruelty (that is, make her more inclined to cruelty).

Of course, this discussion cannot be properly finished without bringing up a strange and perhaps irrelevant imaginary scenario:

Imagine a future scientist, Sally, has a mean sister, Jane, who is very cruel to her husband, Andy. Sadly, Jane is a crime boss and would see to it that Andy would be gutted and then cloned if he ever left her. Being a sensitive genius, Sally builds an android duplicate of Andy (an Andydroid) to replace her sister’s husband and spare him from her cruelty. She then smuggles Andy off world so he can have a better life.

Being a moral person, Sally does not want Andydroid to suffer, so she makes him immune to pain and suffering. Naturally, he has all the behavioral programming needed to satisfy Sally’s need to see Andy suffer. For example, if Jane flaunts her latest lover in front of Andrydroid and “his” friends, he will shed tears but will actually feel no emotional pain.

Sally is such a genius that Jane never notices the difference. She treats Andydroid the same as Andy, yet Andrydroid does not suffer from her actions at all.

So, are Jane’s acts against Andrydroid cruel acts or not? Bonus points for classic science fiction references, of course

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April 3, 2010

Bullets from the Drug War

Just so you know this is something i shared from another website

Bullets from the Drug War: "
[One-year update: I posted this a year ago. Right now, the Secretary of State, the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other American top brass are in Mexico City trying to spin this. Let's see if any of what I said a year ago needs to be revisited.]
  • The US has lost the 'War on Drugs'
  • The losing side is usually not the one to decide when a fight is over or how it ends
  • Unlike other recent defeats, this lost war is a defeat followed by an invasion
  • Mexico is the natural staging area for the invasion (inconvenient though it is for the Mexicans)
  • New franchises are being set up to service the North American drug market (which is the biggest in the world)
  • The CIA has to eat, and all they know how to do competently is run guns and drugs and control thugs; they get a seat at the table
  • The narcs have to eat too, and all they are trained to do is deal (with) drugs; they get a seat at the table too
  • As the federales grow weak in the US and Mexico, the battle lines will advance north of the border, leaving Mexico a quiet and largely intact backwater
  • This is an inter-US conflict, because Americans are the most avid consumers, sellers, and prosecutors of drugs
  • Life in the USA gives everyone a pain that is for many people simply not survivable without drugs: either alcohol, pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs
  • Illegal drugs are far more cost-effective than either pharma or alcohol — government-licensed industries which are either excessively lucrative or taxed heavily
  • As Americans give up hope, they will need to self-medicate in ever-larger numbers
  • They will be far more able financially to afford illegal drugs than either pharma or alcohol.
  • Illegal drugs (and moonshine) are two very large post-collapse enrepreneurial opportunities within the fUSA/бСША [Orlov 2005]
  • This is no longer a war against drugs; it is now a contest between alternative drug distribution systems
  • One alternative is a centralized, paramilitary organization run by CIA remnants, former military, and former police
  • Another alternative is ethnic mafias, which will diversify into many other kinds of trade.
  • The third, nautrally most cost-effective alternative will be provided by informal, local distribution networks based on barter, which will be all that is left once the dust settles
  • The downside of all this is that it will be hard to find anyone sober enough to operate a light switch
  • The upside to that is that the national electrical grid goes away, so there will be very little demand for competent light switch operators