Humans aren’t very smart.

Here’s the deal, I’m not sure all the words and stuff we’re building prove any kind of meaningful intelligence.

As far as the words go, most animals have a way to communicate the desire for coitus, impending danger, and food. It might just be the case that they don’t have any inclination to talk about anything else. I’m not sure the fact us sapiens can’t keep our mouth shut about anything makes us smarter than them.

Then there’s the building stuff part. I gotta say, seems like any animal that doesn’t have to destroy its habitat to live in it is smarter than we are. Take the fridge away from most humans and they are dead in a week, that seems kind of stupid really. It isn’t just that we can’t live in the forest, it’s that we have to chop the forest down in order to not live in it.

We can’t even use the stuff that was already lying around, the stuff every single other species on the planet thrives on without any kind of a problem. We have to make totally new shit out of everything, we have to chop trees down, how else could we have pencils? Or a place to sit? We figure out how to make plastic, quickly realize that plastic is killing everything on the planet, and so decide to make way more of it.

Now, I’m not that naive, I know the background. Destroying the planet makes people rich, so isn’t it smart to do that? Well, what the fuck? Figure out a way to get rich without destroying the goddamn planet if you’re such a genius. Maybe you can’t, but that still leaves the question of whether it is intelligent to covet massive amounts of wealth. Doesn’t it seem like achieving even the smallest degree of wisdom would involve understanding the limited capacity money has to cause happiness?

Now before you go calling me a hypocrite, allow me. I’m writing words on a plastic computer sitting on a wood desk. If blathering on while destroying the planet means being an idiot, then I’m an idiot.

I don’t really have anything to add to that.

What’s Up With There Not Being Any Valentine’s Day Songs?

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Yesterday was Christmas, in case you missed that. I think the idea that there is a war on Christmas is funny, it is literally everywhere. If you’re a Christian, the problem isn’t people abandoning Christmas, it’s too many people embracing it, enjoying the traditions without any regard to the religious aspect. Christmas is turning Halloween, losing its religiosity as more and more people embrace it. Or maybe the Christians just tricked everyone in to celebrating their savior’s birthday. Anyway, we had a great time, just sat around the the house and played with toys all day.

I got a guitar last year, and so leading up to the day I was working on some Christmas songs. So then I played them. Now it’s December 26th and I can’t play those songs for 11 months, so what am I supposed to do? Being stupid, my first thought was in regards to what the next holiday would be, as opposed to maybe thinking about the several non-holiday songs that I could learn, and realized it is Valentine’s Day, and that there are no Valentine Day songs.

Now, I know that every other song in existence is about falling in or out of love, which puts it into somewhat of the same category as Valentine’s Day, but they are not Valentine’s Day songs. This is the holiday of love, the primary muse of music, if every popular song in existence is any evidence,  and not a single song in its celebration. Maybe that’s ok. They’d pretty much just be variations on Whitney Houston singing “I Will Always Love You”.

I meant to do that, by the way, put the period after the quotation marks. I’m quoting the song title, then the sentence ends. I’m not quoting the end of the sentence, the quotation marks are specifying exactly what it is I am quoting. Andy Rooney agrees with me. He did, anyway.

So, I guess I’ll learn some non-holiday songs instead. Oh wait, the next holiday is New Year’s Eve! Which has exactly one song. Tom Waits did a version of it that should be the definitive version, if it isn’t.

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.

On old long syne my Jo,
On old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On old long syne.

 

Happy Holidays!

Life and Death

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September 6th marks two important anniversaries in the life of someone to whom I was uniquely close, his name was Don. Don was born on September 6th, 1982, and he died on September 6th, 2011. A neat and tidy 29 years, no remainder. It also, now, marks the birth of the daughter of one of my great friends, she was born on September 6th, 2018. Mazel tov!

On September 9th of this same year, my own daughter was born. Mazel tov to me! And to her, and her mother of course. Great joy! In an email I received while still in the hospital the next day, I learned that my brother’s dog was hit by a car in the streets of Chicago, and had passed away.

So much spinning on the wheel of life! Life emerges, departs, emerges, departs. Such a funny and sad and amazing thing. My brother and I adopted our dogs on the same day, incidentally. We went to the shelter, just to look. We were both hungover, and prone to depressive states. Perhaps we thought looking at cute dogs would make us feel better, or perhaps that looking at cute dogs in cages would let us wallow deeper in our existential numbness. At any rate we left with two cute little chihuahuas. His dog may have been the daughter of my dog, they weren’t sure. I will say that I told my dog about what happened, and she has barely gotten off the couch since. Am I projecting? Quite possibly. I am just a dumb ape with barely any hair and not one redeeming adaptation besides a big stupid brain after all.

So, a lot of death and life all crammed into 4 days (it’s strange how calendar math works, 6+3=9, yet the 6th through the 9th consists of four days, not three). A lot more than just my old friend, my daughter, my friends daughter, and my brother’s dog. Hell, just in regards to people I know a friend lost a cousin to suicide in the same time span, and another old friend had a daughter as well. Imagine how much life and death there must have been in the city I live in, nevermind the whole fucking planet!

What’s the point? Well, that’s my question. I’m exalted and over the moon about my daughter, and my friend’s as well. I am saddened deeply for my brother, it is no trivial thing to lose a pet, especially after almost a decade of companionship. Is it a wash? Is there a lesson to learn? If there is, I am afraid it might really be trivial. The lesson being simply that things that are alive die, so rejoice in them before it happens! Hug your daughters! Hug your dogs! Look at the birds! Smell a goddamn rose! The mud became conscious, and now it is your turn to enjoy it, don’t fuck around!

Congratudolences to all!

Do Whatever You Want, You Have To Anyways.

The title of this piece is false advice. If you want to hurt people, don’t. If you want to hoard money for no reason while people starve to death, or work menial jobs forever to no happy end, don’t. However, if you want to move to the beach, do. If you want to open an ice cream stand, do. If you want to forget all of your debts and walk off into the woods, go for it.

Life is singular folks. Seems very unlikely that it happens again, at the very least not in the same way it is happening right now. Which means you’ve got one chance to do what you want in this world, it is this chance, it is today. Hate your job? Quit. Don’t like your neighbors? Move. Nothing gets better through inaction, no one is coming to save you. It is up to you.

I have even better news actually, it isn’t up to you. Everything you are ever going to do is set in stone. How do I know? I don’t, but I’m pretty sure. Here’s two pieces of evidence. One is just that this life doesn’t repeat itself, which means you go through it exactly once. Every time you have acted, responded, decided, it was the only time you will ever act in that particular situation. Which means questions of what you would do differently if you had the chance are irrelevant. You won’t. Furthermore, even if you did, if you were in the exact same situation again, with the exact same information, you would make the exact same choice. How do I know? Because in that situation with that information, you made that choice. Pretending you would magically make some other choice in that exact same situation is useless, as is pretending you might have been able to learn from the mistake of that choice before having made it and so chose otherwise. Spilt milk.

The other piece of evidence is just the very nature of the universe. It’s causal. X happens, causes y why every time. The pool ball analogy is a good one. If the cue ball hits the eight ball on the exact same table at the exact same speed and angle at the exact same positions, the eight ball will move the same way every time. This has been how things have happened since the beginning. Stars forming, planets, earthquakes, waves, clouds, rainbows, all just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. So it is with physical phenomena. You know what else is physical phenomena? Your thoughts, your decisions, your actions. Each is just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. Had toast this morning? That was determined by the big bang. Broke up with your boyfriend? Big bang did that. C’est la vie.

So, don’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to. Don’t worry about mistakes you’ve made, you had no choice. Free will is an illusion. Since free will is an illusion and mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Of course you shouldn’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to, which means you don’t have to worry about any mistakes you’ve ever made, because you had no choice, and since your mistakes don’t matter, you may as well do whatever you want. Of course you are going to do whatever you want, so don’t worry about possible mistakes, they were inevitable, because free will is an illusion, and since mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Why are you so focused on potential mistakes anyway? Maybe it’ll be awesome.

The Trolley (continued)

The brakes on the train lock up, they sound like a giant dragging his fingernails across a city wide blackboard. The man sitting on the bridge leans forward, as if he is trying to get a better look. You decide you’ll save the children, one life sacrificed to save five others, that in itself is sufficient justification. You rush forward, and the man looks over at you.

“Oh, hello Sarah.” he says.

It’s your cousin, someone you haven’t seen in years, but your kin all the same. You should have recognized him, but you didn’t. You falter, tripping over your steps, but your momentum is determined. Your cousin puts up his hands, tries to swing his legs back over the bridge, but it’s too late. You connect with him, and he topples over the side. When the train comes to stop it is with your cousin’s body edging up against the first child. The children are saved, you saved them. You also murdered your cousin.

A flash of light blinds you, seems to take up the entire world, and then fades away. You are standing on top of the bridge again, your cousin sits on the edge of the bridge. The brakes have just begun to squeal.

(to be continued)

The Trolley

In your town a bridge crosses an expanse of railway tracks that lead to a terminating depot. Often people stand on the bridge, watching the trains roll into their final destination, or take off again. It is not the majestic scenery of the nearby mountains or lakes, but in the context of a city, for those appreciative of the massive capacity of humankind for producing infrastructure, it is nice to look at.

One day, early in the morning, you are walking across that bridge. It is nearly empty, a rare event, with the lone observer sitting upon the railing of the bridge, his feet dangling over the tracks. Not an entirely safe position, but the man is clearly an adult, an impressively sized adult at that. A giant almost. You edge over to the railing yourself, so as to see the tracks, and you stop. Your heart seems to skip a beat. Down there, as if in a Dudley Doright cartoon, are children tied to the train tracks. Five of them. Screaming for help.

“Holy shit!” you scream.

“I know.” says the other man.

A train is approaching, it’s horn blaring. At this stage it does not move quickly, but neither can it apply the brakes quickly enough to stop before hitting the children, and regardless of its speed the impact is going to end the lives of each child. In a blur of thoughts one seems to ring out a little more clearly. The man is sitting directly above the track, and the combination of the frantically screeching brakes of the train and the weight of the man might be sufficient to save them. Why is he sitting there anyway? Why didn’t he call for help right away? Did he tie them to the tracks? There isn’t time to ask, you either push the man, surely killing him but saving the lives of the children, or you don’t, and the children will die.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

 

(to be continued)

Get to know your opinions

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I told my class that for any statement in regards to the reality of the world, any proposition, there is a significant difference between possessing knowledge of that proposition and an opinion of that proposition. We decided to try and determine what exactly the difference is. We didn’t find an answer that satisfied anyone completely, but we believe we found something meaningful. That’s what philosophy is, by the way, trying to determine the exact nature of objects and concepts. At least to a significant degree. I mention that because many people seem to think philosophy is advice. Virtually any time you hear someone say, “Well, my philosophy is…” all they are going to say is something they believe works for a particular situation. “My philosophy is, you’ve got to live and let live.” That’s advice, it’s a different word for a reason. But I digest.

One thing that is the same about knowledge and opinion is that people claim to have them. A difference is that it is very unlikely that a person can state their opinion and be wrong. If Sheila says, “I don’t like blueberries.” it would be strange if she was wrong. Not lying, wrong. There’s a difference between being wrong and lying, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

Let’s go down this one instead, why isn’t there a possessive pronoun for singular subjects? I said, “…a person can state their opinion and be wrong.” In that sentence I stated a singular subject, and then used ‘their’ to refer to that subject’s opinions, but ‘their’ refers to possession by a group of people, right? Actually, never mind. English is fluid, it’s just kind of sticky mess of other languages in the first place, so why don’t we just declare that ‘their’ is a possessive case gender neutral singular subject pronoun as well as a possessive case gender neutral plural subject pronoun? Done!

Anyway, you’re unlikely to state your opinion and be wrong. Your claims to knowledge though? They can definitely be wrong. Probably are wrong most of the time. I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean it in the skepticism is the deal and it’s more than likely that nothing is as it seems, so no one can or does know anything sense. So no offense. Anyway, we thought that was important, that claims to knowledge are often wrong, while claims of opinion seldom are.

Being 4th graders, they wanted to know more. So we figured out why claims of knowledge are often wrong while claims of opinion rarely are. Claims of knowledge have an associated objective fact. if you say, “I know that the sun rises in the East” it’s either true or not true. Regardless of your belief in the sun rising in the east, (and at this point we realized there was this other thing we’d have to figure out, beliefs) it either does or does not. If it does, your claim of knowledge is true, if it doesn’t it’s false. You can’t know things that aren’t true.

Opinions, on the other hand, refer to subjective truths. Having the opinion “I don’t like blueberries” is determined by not liking blueberries. So a person can rarely be wrong about their opinions, as they are just statements of their feelings.

This raised a further question, if it is necessary for a proposition to be true in order to know it, is that all that needs to be the case to know something? We figured pretty quickly that you have to believe it, whatever that means. So, I asked, if I believe that it will rain on March 27th, 2028, and it does, did I know it? They informed me I did not, it had simply been a guess. Then what does it take to know something already?

“You have to have a reason!” said one exasperated 9 year old. A reason, I said, like what? “Like proof, evidence!” Ah ha, I said. So I wrote on the board To have knowledge of a proposition (p) you must believe p, p must be true, and your belief must be justified by something. 

I asked them then, what counts as justification? But then I realized we’d been talking for 90 minutes and it was time to go to lunch.  We’ll figure it out though, 4th graders are smart.