Archive for July, 2005

The Glass

by Jason Stotts

I’m sure that everyone has heard the old riddle: “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”

Well, it’s a question that I have always answered “half-full” merely because it indicates being “optimistic” as opposed to “pessimistic,” or at least that’s how the riddle usually runs.

Now for those of you who know me, I’m constantly doing philosophical “battle” with the best majors at Denison: Matt Morrell, Miriam Stetz, Mike Sato, Jake Neiheisel, Sam Benham, Amanda Klinger, Taylor McCann (who isn’t that great, just confused), and basically anyone else in range…

This is important because it sets the stage for why I’m even writing this piece.

So on Thursday I met a new girl who’s name is Ozzie Crump, who is a sophomore at Denison majoring in Psych. Anyway, the important point is that she is NOT A PHILOSOPHER and only a SOPHMORE.

While at lunch, I was having a HUGE cup of coffee and when it was at basically the halfway point, she looks at me and asks: “so is it half-full or half-empty?”

Being the typical smartass I can be sometimes, I looked into the glass hoping to say something like “it’s 20% full”, but alas it contained exactly 50% of its total volume. So I instead went with me standard “It’s half-full” line.

In response to this, she looks at me and says “You know, it seems to me that it matters whats going on – if you’re filling it then it is half-full, and if you’re emptying it then its half-empty.” She said in effect that we need to make a distinction here and keep the context in mind.

Now for anyone who understands how good of an answer this is, will understand why I nearly dropped out of my chair! She, without knowing me or my method of operation, had taken my very lines about distinction and context and said them in a nonchalant way, as if it were the easiest thing in the world!

Needless to say, I was impressed and explained to her that she had just off-handedly defeated me in a philosophical question…a feat that any of the above named majors can attest is no easy task.

So the point of all this?

1) Never think you know everything
2) Never stop questioning and take rote answers
3) Always be on the look out for intelligence, because even the cute girl across the table at the coffee shop can be more than she appears.

Black and White

by Jason Stotts

While out here at the Objectivist conference, I’ve been taking a number of interesting seminars, one of which is “The Elements of Thinking in Principles” by Dr. Craig Biddle. The official course description reads:

Ayn Rand’s cognitive clarity and moral certainty were consequences of her thinking in principles. Thinking in principles is, in essence, a process of identifying relevant fundamentals and applying them properly to a given situation. This course will examine and concretize crucial components of this method, emphasizing the practical, life-or-death implications of each.

We will discuss the nature, importance and interrelationships of: naming one’s primaries, excluding the middle, classifying by essentials, respecting hierarchy, keeping context and dismissing the arbitrary. Using a wide variety of examples, we will see how—when properly understood and applied—these elements unify into the whole that is the hallmark of objectivity: the method of thinking in principles. Attendees will increase their understanding of what is involved in this vital method, which will better equip them to pursue their values, promote their lives and protect their rights. (The course presupposes an intermediate-level understanding of Objectivist epistemology and ethics.)

Now of course I was interested in a course which purported to be able to help me think clearer – who wouldn’t want to increase their cognitive efficacy? So I enrolled, went to class on the first day, and something very surprising happened – the course lived up to its description. Instead of being a waste of time, which had been a fear of mine, the course was actually quite useful and it helped me to clarify a lot of things which I “knew”, but apparently only sketchily.

Take this for example, a thing must be either A or ~A (the tilde means “not” or “non”), so this implies that if A stands for “tables”, then ~A is the class of all non-tables. Every existence which is not a table, falls into the class of ~A and there is no overlap between the groups, they are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive (nothing is outside one of the groups and everything is represented). This makes it very easy to think about moral issues with very little trouble applying this framework to ethical issues. For example, let us start over with a thing must be either A or ~A, and let us represent the class of all actions which are moral. This means that ~A represents the class of all things which is not of the class of all actions which are moral, or ~A represents the class of all actions which are immoral. So, since a thing must be either A (moral) or ~A (immoral), this clearly means that everything is “black and white” and it clearly delineates moral action from immoral action. Now of course we still need Morality to provide us with what exactly the class of moral actions contains, but even before we have that knowledge, we know that no immoral action could be moral and that everything is either black or white.

Think about that for just one second, you have just yourself proved that everything is black and white by following my argument, you now know that there is no moral gray!

This was only one of the first points of the course and for me it wasn’t even the most insightful.

Flying Thoughts

by Jason Stotts

How great it is to soar among the birds,
between the twinkling lights far below,
and the glittering stars far above.

How great it is to be master of nature,
to have a mind capable of feats not yet known,
to live among the wonders wrought by our hand.

How great it is to have knowledge,
knowledge is power,
and this power is good.

How great it is to believe,
not in false gods,
but in the efficacy of our minds.

How great it is to be,
and to be, that which I be,
a Man!

(FYI: I always use the word “Man” to mean a human person, not just males)

An Ode To Man

by Jason Stotts

Okay, so perhaps I should preface this by saying that I hate poetry and I cannot write poetry, but I was moved to try and put down my feelings and this is what came out of it…so read at your own risk. You have been warned.

How great is Man
that he may be,
the Master of all Eternity.
Through his mind,
He knows no bounds,
into the skies and off the ground,
into the blue depths,
and the black of space,
Man can go anyplace.
Free the shackles of your Mind,
And be surprised at what you find!

Be As you Are

by Jason Stotts

Another thing I saw in the San Diego Airport was a woman wearing a shirt that said “Be as you are”, which I though was an interesting philosophical claim worthy of investigation.

I can only construe 2 readings of this, 1) the loose reading – “Be an individual” and 2) the literal meaning – don’t change.

Now, I would like to say that 1) is implausible because of the formation “be as you are” does not say “be as you are – as opposed to conforming”, it stops at the first part. Let me push this analysis by saying that the word “be” is a form of the verb “to be” which means “to exist”, so when you say “be” you mean “exist”. The other key word is “are” which is another form of “to be” and in this context “are” means “in your current state of existence”. So, to reformulate the phrase it goes from “be as you are” to “exist in your current state of existence”.

This immediately makes me wonder why anyone would want to exist merely as they are, because I know that I’m not living at 100% of my potential and I doubt anyone is, but even if they are (which I doubt) you can always make yourself better. To concretize this so its not confusing, let us say that we are like containers for liquids. If you are a 10oz. container that is full you are at 100%, but if you are a 20oz. container that contains the same amount, then you’re only at 50%. The point is that a 10oz. should strive to increase their capacity so that they are able to hold more, because 60% of 20oz. is more than 100% of 10oz.

Life is about not only constantly trying to be your best, but also about expanding your abilities and powers – a life without growth is a life in decline. So to truly advocate merely being as you are is to advocate movement towards death.