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A message from Patrick Gunkel
A message from Greg Michaud
Killing Wild Animals.
Conversations with Leon Felkins
A message from Simon Banton
We must find the answers for ourselves.
A message from One Man
Take a look at my page, One Man's Thoughts.

From: Patrick Gunkel

Dear philosophers:

Well, here is something for you to chew on or spit out, gagging. At least it's home-grown stuff.

TO  NYT forum Science in the News:  1999 Nov. 26


     The article Biological Products Raise Genetic Ownership Issues
(NYT, Nov. 26) discusses the concept of patentable genetic resources;
but the real issue is larger, and needs to be reexpressed to denote the
novel notion that the information  let us call it biological
information (which itself is a mere part or anticipation of something
even greater and in fact all-encompassing, which should be termed
natural information)  that defines the states and processes of any
and all organisms, e.g. their genes, molecules, biochemical systems,
immunological processes, and totality of traits (phenes), should be
patentable, ownable, saleable, etc, as a form of so-called intellectual
     This absurd and profoundly obnoxious idea, which is spreading
rapidly, both domestically in the United States and throughout the
world's countries and international organizations, is, as an example of
contemporary Man's pathological stupidity, a veritable pearl.
     Its origin is the rabid selfishness that threatens to define a new
and tragic epoch in the history of civilization, whose origin in turn is
our philosophical and moral shallowness, tawdriness, and naivete. 
Nowhere these days does one hear the great intellectual voices of men of
sufficient scope, depth, vision, and conscience to speak wisdom instead
of ignorance, to address what SHOULD be instead of what merely IS, to
communicate to their fellows a sense of the central and transcendent
importance  the paradoxical priority  of the perpetual and infinite
cultural, social, and spiritual evolution of our species or of
intelligence in this universe.  Nor is anywhere to be heard a
contemptuous, resounding, and imperative condemnation of those ignoble
forces of greed, brute habit, inappropriate monetization, vulgar
commercialization, mindless materialism, unreasonable control,
pullulating fallacious nomocracy, and sheer idiocy that have seized this
Earth from the thoughtful hands of Common Sense and Decency.
     Biological information is the free and common heritage, wealth, and
fortune of mankind.  NO one should own it, in a real sense no one CAN
own it.  It should be like the air, the light of the sun, the great
river of knowledge that flows into us and through us and is amplified
and given to the future by all of us, as part of what we are as an
indivisible yet indefinable unity.
     Despite claims to the contrary, it is not a biological resource,
for resources are properly physical, finite, and exhaustible things that
have a reason to be conserved and held in trust.
     Those who would establish a claim to biological information because
of the irrelevance that it happens to sit on their property or to be by
chance exclusively encased in their resident organisms, are blindmen who
cannot grasp the concept of the greater circulating wealth of the human
race and the synergism of human beings.  Who have never understood
Science and Culture as universal and timeless forms of philanthropy, as
engines of good that must not be hobbled in any way  or tied down like
Gulliver by thousands of petty strings, because of the suspicions of
Lilliputians who cannot imagine such a greater entity.
      Libraries  the beneficiaries of the past  should be open to all
 that they may be the beneficiaries of the future and ITS future and
every future that is to come.  And the largest library on our planet
today is the totality of biological information contained in the Bios. 
This Natural Biological Library, which is cosmopolitan in its contents,
must be open to all  all organizations, all causes, all governments,
all scientists, all students, all entrepeneurs, all amateurs.  It is the
rightful property of everyone because it is the rightful property of no
      One should not be deceived by the transparent hypocrisies of
countries and their puppet organizations who profess themselves driven
by a selfless desire to protect for a LAND, a NATION, or a PEOPLE the
natural resources thereof, when what they really refer to is their own
cupidity as a few privileged individuals eager to profit in any
arbitrary parasitic way they can by a slyly contrived and propagandistic
notion of genetic resources  even when as is so often the reality
those possibilities for profit are at bottom almost surely meager or at
best very dubious.  Nor should one be misled by national and
international agencies that trumpet such a meretricious fanciful phrase,
owing to what is little more than their official obsessions,
compulsions, monomanias, self-love, quest for power, pleasure at making
an omnipresent nuisance of themselves, frenetic lust for taxes and fees
to shore up their bureaucratic estates, bored and opportunistic taste
for quackery and fads, need to impress credulous citizens and
colleagues, need to impress themselves, craving for more office space,
staffs, publicity, and celebrity, primitive joy in wrestling with other
animals in the jungle, corporate or otherwise, and Eldorado passion for
     All such things are but a circus, a distraction, a laughable
curiosity, and a despicable corruption.  They are not to be glamorously
and mystically praised, but savagely oppugned as worthless and wrong.


     EVERY LAW passed to restrict, and EVERY PATENT filed to
impropriate, genetic or biological information  anywhere in the world,
by anyone, under any circumstances  SHOULD BE at all times and by
everyone CHALLENGED, DEFIED, and IGNORED without hesitation or the
slightest twinge of conscience.  For all such laws and patents are MORAL
FICTIONS and intellectually bankrupt; they are pretentious inventions of
villains, paid for by hidden lobbyists wild with the thought of windfall
profits, and hammered together by those officially approved engineers of
crime, the lawyers; and they are evils that can only burden and retard
the progress of civilization, blight our future, stifle generous and
fruitful sharing, and discourage exploration, discovery, innovation, and
products that would benefit every person and nation many times more if
the things they would control, restrict, and turn into property were
simply left to be that which they have always been before  absolutely
free, visible, exploitable to and by everyone with a scientific or
commercial dream.
      Those who neglect, spurn, and subvert, or struggle to limit,
repeal, and annul, such illegitimate and cancerous laws and patents will
be the genuine heroes, benefactors, and servants of those who people the
Earth and do not pretend to own it: you and I and 6 billion other human
beings, and the millions of billions of others of our kind who will flow
from us in the future as the priceless river of all-nourishing Life that
is our TRUE heritage and bequest.

                      Patrick Gunkel

Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Thanksgiving, 1999

From: Greg Michaud

What are your views on the killing of wild animals? Please let me know.

From Duane:

Your question is not specific but very open ended. You may have had a more specific meaning in mind but you asked a very general question.

Like many questions, it is not so much the act itself that determines the answer but the context and the reason.

As for killing wild animals:

For food - I see no problem unless I am willing to become a vegetarian which I am not.

In self defense such as when attacked by a bear or a rabid animal, I see no problem.

By accident as when I run over a rabbit on the highway. It's a regrettable side effect of our society. I see no solution unless we are willing to stop traveling to protect animals which I am not.

For sport - seems like a sick way to get your jollies.

Euthansia as when I find a wounded deer in the woods, I think there is a moral obligation to get the animal out of its misery if at all possible.

To protect our property such as growing crops, or health as in the case of rabies or histoplasmosis, it is sometimes necessary, although regrettable, to kill the animals.

For animal products such as furs, ivory, etc. I think the answer depends on how essential to our life is the product. Yes, I do take the position that the life of myself or my family takes precedence over the life of an animal. I would not go so far as to say that any human life is worth more than the life of any animal though.

As for killing of other animals that are a nuisance such as insects, spiders, snakes, etc. I would not kill those simply because I could or because they exist but I would if I perceived them as a threat. For instance, I kill poisonous snakes if I find them in the vicinity of my home but not if I come upon them in the wilderness.

Your question also leaves open the possibility that you may be questioning killing of wild animals by non humans such as the killing of a rabbit by a fox. Well, its none of my business so I am sad for the rabbit but happy for the fox.

From: Greg Michaud

Thanks for your response. Based on what I read on your web site I believed you to be more or less against the harvesting of wild animals. As for the reason my question was so open-ended, it was posed in that fashion in order to get the type response I got from you. And, I was trying not to give my position on the subject away for fear of not getting as honest an answer as I got from you. Again, I appreciate it.

As to your responses, mine are the following.

For food - I concur

Self-Defense - I concur

By accident - I concur. I will add this, however; My first thought is not for the animal as it is for the safety of anyone in the vehicle involved. My second thought - and this may or may not sound unappealing to you - is do I have room for that food in my freezer or can it be given to a Hunters for the Hungry program.

For sport - There are really two issues here. First, by definition, when I go hunting each fall it is deemed sport hunting. I will not lie to you; I very much enjoy the hunt. It is not the kill, but the hunt. Oh, it is true, when I do manage to kill a deer or partridge or whatever it is that I am hunting for, I am pleased and happy for my good fortune. The second issue here is that when I go hunting each fall, the "sport hunting" that I participate in also leads to some of the best table fare I can provide for myself. (Sure beats beef!) In other words, in the process of "getting my jollies" as you put it, I am providing quality food for myself.

Euthanasia - I concur. If I saw a hobbled deer during hunting season, I would do the same. If it were outside of the hunting season I would inform the Department of Natural Resourses and let them do their job.

To protect property - That depends. If people who decide that they must build their "dream house" in the middle of the woods and then expect that the deer and other critters aren't going to bother their plants and shrubs, I say, "Tough, deal with it!". In the case of farmers loosing large sums of money due to browsing by deer, bear, geese and others, I believe those animal numbers must be controlled and the best method for that is hunting.

Animal products - As for your first sentece I concur. As for your second sentence all I would say to that is I completely disagree. ANY HUMAN LIFE IS WORTH MORE THAN ANY ANIMAL LIFE, IN EVERY INSTANCE. That is based in biblical truth. Now whether or not you believe in God is another subject, but I do with all my heart and I must stringently disagree with you. That is not to say, however, that each and every animal doesn't deserve our respect, because it does. But, not a single one of them is more important than a single human life.

Killing nuisance animals - although I am very fearful of poisonous snakes, I concur.

Animals killing other animals - Nature is a wonderous thing.

I will just make this point in general. Human beings are part of nature and a major part of our nature is that of a predator. We are a part of the food chain. I believe that, I accept that and I live that out.

Again, thank you for your response and your honesty.

From Duane:

Looks like we have some agreement and some disagreement. I would like to add a few additional comments for clarification and/or arguments sake.

I too enjoy the hunt. I have spent many hours tracking deer in the snow or sitting on a mountain rock watching below for the rare bobcat or watching squirrels play in the trees. When I was younger I would sometimes try to learn indian stalking by seeing how close I could get to a rabbit or a deer before the animal realized I was around. Not much luck with deer. I did get within about three feet of a rabbit once before he spooked. Of course the objective would have been to have tapped him on the shoulder.

You used the word "harvesting". I do concur that managed hunts are sometimes necessary to reduce populations in wildlife management and, as I already stated, I see no problem with hunting for food. It is not the hunt that concerns me. It is the purpose. I have killed several animals but I never got any feeling of joy from doing so.

So, you would argue that the life of the guy who just shot a number of kids in a school camp in LA is worth more than that of a magnificent bull elk?

From: Greg Michaud

ABSOUTELY, YES! We have no right to play God, in any instance. He gave us sovreignty over animals, not humans.

From Duane:
See also:

To: Leon Felkins

I spent some more time on your site this morning.
I discovered:

  1. Lots of solid content with depth.
  2. Simple HTML which translates to good style IMO.
  3. Enough of interest to me that I included your page on my surfing page list of "Top 20 Cool Sites on the Internet".

I think logic makes more sense than labels such as radical or whatever. However, it is difficult for most of us to be completely logical because, as you say, everything is influenced by our memes. That means that if you and I both try to be completely logical we may reach different conclusions and we may both be completely unable to see the faults in our logic.

You mention "level-headed" folks. I have only begun to realize lately how few of those there are.

Fm: Leon Felkins


What I am most interested in at the moment is the the concept of "vagueness". Once I started thinking about it, I was overwhelmed with the seriousness of the issue. (Just like the "social dilemmas", I think these things up myself, then go looking to see what might have already been said about it. Sometimes the terminology I use can be embarassing later on.) The thing seems to be really profound to me. I summarize:

  1. Essentially all social elements are "matters of degree", from pornography to poverty. A break point is set and what is above this dividing line is ok and what is below is bad.
  2. The specific breakpoint is purely arbitrary and no specific point can be defended logically. For example, whatever poverty point you set, you really can't say that that person at that level would be in poverty if you remove one penny!
  3. Therefore, all such social elements are bogus and have no justification.
I think that "fuzzy logic" may be another view of the same phenomena.

But the implications are profound. If the difference between hot and cold, pretty and ugly, large egg and medium egg, right and wrong, etc. are just arbitrary points on a continuum, and no particular point can be defended, then such distinctions are meaningless in an absolute sense. All is relative, as Dr. Einstein is quoted.

And BTW, that is not a minor point. Whether we think absolutely (as our custodians would like) or relatively makes a big difference in how we live our lives. I often remind myself to think relatively when I start to let some little activity of my wife's irritate me. Looked at absolutely, wasting money on clothing sales at Penneys could be cause for separation. On the other hand, looking at my wife as a package -- relative to what else is available to me -- I realize just how lucky I am!

To: Leon Felkins

You wrote:
"Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be prohibitive toward socially disreputable psychoactive drugs, especially when they are used by young and hairy persons; so they generally favor criminalizing the use of marijuana and punishing rather than treating those engaged in the trade of LSD. At the same time, they are permissive toward nonpsychoactive drugs that are allegedly unsafe or worthless and thus favor free trade in saccharin and Laetrile. In these ways, they too betray their fantasy of the state -- as enforcer of the dominant ethic: Such a state should punish citizens who deviate from the moral precepts of the majority and should abstain from meddling with people's self-care."

Although you are right in regard to the people now calling themselves conservatives (Republicans) I would argue that the true conservative philosophy (Barry Goldwater) would be permissive toward all drugs with, perhaps, a few exceptions primarily because the true conservative philosophy, once anyway, promoted individual freedom and minimal government regulation.

I suspect this is somewhat your viewpoint. I tend to describe myself as leaning toward liberal but this is primarily because that conservatives lately have tended toward pandering to the nutty far right with a social agenda which advocates government imposition of morality. Although Bill Clinton is inconsistent and pandering, he doesn't seem to me to be as much so as those on the other side. I also, probably unlike you, do feel that there are a number of arenas in which government can and should play a positive role.

When the conservative viewpoint is argued logically and consistently I find that I have little argument, but very little is ever argued logically and consistently.

To: Leon Felkins

You wrote:

"Now Duane, being a farmer, you know dang well that the purpose of life is to propagate your own kind. All else is wishful thinking, apparently a burden of humans only."

Many times, as an existentialist, I suspect that reproduction and awareness of life are the only purposes that are not actually a reflection of human ego.

Obviously my preface page and, for that matter, my entire Web site (maybe yours too) are reflections of ego.

OTOH, what's so bad about ego?

Fm: Leon Felkins

I can't bring myself to support either major party as it would be like providing support to one or the other of two thugs who are quarrelling over how they are going to divide up your loot. I am probably best described as being libertarian in the sense that I am for less government (simply go back to the original agreement, the constitution and to that level established at that time).

As far as are there any areas that government should be in? My statement here is that at the moment, we don't have any other solution to the "common goods" problem, human nature being what it is. People are going to cheat with regard to common goods unless you convince them that God is watching them or the government is possibly watching and the consequences are severe. Unfortunately bringing in the government (or God) creates a whole new set of problems, possibly as bad or worse than you had before!

In general, I also tend to support the conservative view. The liberal view implies that we know the answer to the problem and we ought to just do it. That comes from ignorance. Most likely, the solutions don't work. Most likely there will be horrid "unanticipated results". So, conservatism appeals to me because I realize how incapable we are in solving human problems.

But -- unless restrained -- they will go too far. Unless restrained they will be arresting us for deviant sexual acts (with our own wives) and will be marching us to a state church on Sunday morning.

Fm: Leon Felkins

You wrote:
"I suspect it is not worthwhile even trying to discuss philosophy with about 95% of the people in the world, mebbe 99%."

Agreed. And maybe rightfully so. People are bombarded with a huge quantity of differing views and they don't have the mental tools to sort it out. Let me relate an experience I had. A couple of years ago, my wife and I spent the evening visiting and old couple that live near by. As so often happens, I got into expressing some of my philosophical views, which they listened to intently. Later in the evening, the old man said, "hey, I got to introduce you to a really smart young man that I think you two would really enjoy talking to. His interest is astrology and he loves to talk about it!". Oh, well.

From Duane:
Maybe mental tools, maybe people are just different and have different interests. Maybe lying in the sun sleeping with a full stomach makes a better philosophical statement than all the words we write.

From Leon:
Hey, that's the subject of my next essay! But there is also a real problem with people having the mental capability to understand many of the complex issues of today"s society. We humans, genetically, are still cavemen.

"Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the ease with which the many are governed by the few." (DAVID HUME)

From: Duane

You wrote:
"I think a good case can be made for ignorance or naivete. I plan to write a paper on that. It is said that a similar situation prevailed in Germany when Adolf was taking over. Yet, what could any one person have done? To challenge the system was to die. Might as well ignore it and enjoy your life."

If you are implying that the world is now in danger from ideas of someone such as Hitler then you are also implying that this is not always so. That I disagree with. I do not think that ignorance is now at any higher level than at most previous times. There is always danger from such people because there are always a majority who are unable to think for themselves.

I also see your point about any one person but disagree with it. Although it is true that any one person could not do anything, one person attempting something might have caused others to follow suit and thereby a cascade effect which might have toppled Hitler. After all the emperor was seen by everyone to be naked when the little boy pointed out the fact.

From Leon:
While the possibility of a person making an impact is not absolutely zero, it is down in the probability levels comparable to "anyone can become president", or "even you can be a champion football star if you try hard enough", or etc. These probabilities are so incredibly small that most rational people regard the chance as zero (at least subconciously -- they really know they can never be president no matter how hard they try).

One thing is certainly for sure: an individual by simply voting will not change anything. The academics have struggled considerably with this one and no one has really been able to challenge that claim. The best they can do is say, "well, there is some probability there will be a tie in a national election". Yes, and we could be blown to bits by a billion ton meteorite, too!

There are many issues that I feel very strongly about but know that I can do nothing about. Two, in the news this morning: 1) Sending piles of taxpayer money to the fairly wealthy people who live on the Carolina beaches (with full knowledge of the risks) and 2) Stopping the massive amount of expenditure of taxpayer money (billions) harassing Sadam. I say that it is impractical for me to even think that I could do anything about such issues. People much bigger than me have tried and failed.

Fm: Duane
I think the "Rational Justification" paper was well written and makes a very valid point. As a matter of fact I would argue that it probably specifically answers the questions I had above about Family Values.

If I understand, you basically say that a moral structure to support civilization requires social pressure to ensure that all members of society know that their civilization and their ultimate good depends on their cooperation and that each individual must be trustworthy, altruistic, and responsible and any not showing these characteristics will be shunned or banned or social outcasts or whatever.
How's that for condensing it all down to one sentence?

From Leon:
Yes, that's about it. For centuries philosophers have been trying to come up with a non-religious basis for morals. It appears that the social dilemmas result from a lack of a minimum set of morals. What I am proposing is that we look at which moral rules are necessary to eliminate the social dilemma. That mimimum set then defines the "moral code" -- scientifically! Trust and its brother, integrity, are obviously required. So called sexual morals will never show up, I will bet.

Fm: Leon Felkins

Yes, I am looking for criticism. My original scheme was to post some thoughts just to get discussion going. I was hoping that by intellectual exchange of thoughts, progress could be made in the same way it has been made by the physicists -- i.e., the scientific method. That idea hasn't worked on the internet. Almost all discussion degenerates into personal attacts.

From Duane:
I thought that too at one time. I can't get people to discuss ideas very much either in person or on the Internet. I wonder why? It's no problem to get people to talk about other people (O.J. or Princess Di). If you and I keep up this type of discussion I may post selected excerpts of it on my web site to see if it gets any comments.

From Leon:
The propensity to flame each other on the Newsgroups rather than discuss issues objectively is a puzzlement. I wonder if any graduate student has chosen to investigate this phenomenon for a dissertation?

Now, after all that babble, let me get to your specific comments. There is a huge amount of evidence that people are dumber than they used to be, including the revising upward of the test scores of the college entrance exams (as they were about 60 points lower than they used to be). But my basis is direct experience. I was a college teacher for awhile. No need to go into how awful the capabilities of many of the students were.

As far as "family values", no one has defined the term which I find very amusing and have commented on it somewhere in my writings. Those that advocate better "family values" make no attempt to rationally justify what it must consist of.

But that wasn't my point. What I'm interested in writing on is "attitude". Is it possible that life is more fulfilling (for many) if they don't really know the facts about life? Certainly many people avoid learning facts about unpleasant things. Certainly many "cultured" persons avoid having their minds contaminated with posibly truthful but unpleasant facts.

From Duane:
I agree with all you say above except that I would change your (for many) to say (for most). I am not ready though yet to reach the conclusion that this is a "bad" thing. I don't know if you are either. I would argue though that one who is not interested enough in politics to study the candidates and the issues should have the right to vote but has no business exercising that right. I might even extend that argument to say that one who has not made a fairly extensive good faith effort to study the issues has no business expressing opinions on any subject. Course that has never stopped anyone from doing so.

Fm: Leon Felkins

We certainly need some criteria for voting other than just having a warm body temperature. But that would be impossible to implement in a democracy. It is interesting that concept that democracy is ultimately self defeating.

From Duane:
Democracy is not a good system of government. As far as I know it only has two things going for it.

  1. No one has been able to come up with a better system.
  2. Any government must exercise some degree of power over the individual. We can get most people to believe that that exercise of power is legitimate if the individual is, in some way, involved in creating that government.

From Leon:
On 1.: not necessarily so. Many great ideas have been suggested by some brilliant philophers and scientists. Today, we have thousands of academics that study the subject of "Public Choice" and have made great progress in understanding the political progress (less on coming up with a solution!). Yet these people are unheeded. Why, because the government you happen to be living with has little to do with the science of government but instead is totally determined by the power and force of those who happen to be in power.

On 2.: I have a more cynical view, of course. People have very little to do with government. They are manipulated into thinking that they have some control over the government. I repeat a challenge I have made many times: show me that you can change anything about the government.

The greatest democracy in the world, the USA, was not created "democratically". A few brilliant and caring individuals imposed this government on the masses. We are very lucky -- it could have been a terrible government if different people had been involved in its formation. Further, you and I have never been asked about nor have we agreed to the government we have. How is that different than a dictatorship? A third point is that the citizens are quite easy to manipulate my the media. This is very dangerous and was not anticipated by the founders, apparently.

Fm: Leon Felkins

When and how did you get into philosophical meanderings?

From Duane:
In the high school library in the early '60s I found a four volume set of books. Although they had been on the shelves for about 15 years I was the first to check them out. They were titled "The World's Great Thinkers". There was a volume on political philosophy, one on scientific philosophy, one on speculative philosophy and one on social philosophy. When I read those plus some science fiction and a great amount of literature and history of various kinds I began to think a little. I read Isaac Asimov, and Loren Eisley, and Huxley (Julian and Aldous) and Margaret Mead, and B. F. Skinner, and Arthur C. Clarke, and Eric Hoffer, and Vance Packard and many many others. Maybe I'll make a list and put it on the Web.

Fm: Leon Felkins

I used to be a real techie. I started out as an electronic technician and after the Navy paid for my Master's degree at the University of Washington (where we were allowed to NOT take the usual liberal arts courses) I becamed a no-nonsense engineer. I looked with some amusement at those who tried to figure out the Human and felt it was a waste of time (still do :-) ). But as I became more and more involved with humans (getting into management, raising a family, etc.) I started thinking more and more about the "human condition". Then I read Harry Browne's book, and I sort of decided that thinking about human foibles was a lot more fun than thinking about bits and electrons. His book gave me the inspiration to follow my interests rather than sticking with my established career.

Fm: Leon Felkins

Well, we found something to disagree on! (I always get a bit nervous and suspicious when there is too much agreeing going on). There is plenty of rationale behind the claim that ignorance is on the increase. Self reliance and individual thinking probably had its peak at the end of WWII. Whether it happened or not, you must agree that it would be conceivable that with a great deal of sheltering from having to think, encouraging people to be passively entertained (TV), and dumbing down the schools COULD cause thinking to deteriorate.

From Duane:
Of course, I have to agree because of the way you worded that statement. It happens that I tend to believe, as you do, that such a process has occurred. However I know that all kinds of people believe all kinds of things, some true, some untrue, and some simply unproven. To make a statement such as you do above, "ignorance is on the increase", or as you do in your paper that I just finished reading, "A Rational Justification for Ethical Behavior", that "we have made little or no progress in solving the awful social problems we are confronted with today."; I require a more specific definition of what you mean by the statement and some statistics or study to support it. Politicians keep talking about a decline in family values, but I have yet to see an agreed on definition of what is meant by family values and how much it has declined and over what period of time. I feel that to begin the process of solving a problem it is first necessary to specifically define the problem. This gives a clue as to how we will know if we have solved the problem and also some ideas as to how to approach solutions.

From Leon:
Man, are we on the same wavelength! I have a great deal of frustration with folks -- which is just about everybody -- that 1) use undefined terms to prove something or to make a point and/or 2) make claims based on hearsay, not bothering to find an authoritative source.

A good example of 1) is the term "rights". People use the term without question, pass massive legislation regarding the term and even go to jail or die to defend the term -- without ever knowing what it means. A few years ago I posted the question on the Libernet asking for a definition. I got nasty mail and lots of definitions (including, "'rights' is whatever a person has the right to do") but nothing of substance. I then asked if we could make a list of "rights" and we could then define it in terms of the list. No two people come up with the same list!

Could it be that with some terms, we all know what it means but we can't define it? Like pornography?

From Duane:
If we can't define it then we may think we all know what it means but we have no way of knowing if we really do. I would argue that if we can't define it then we really have no common agreement.

From Leon:
Your response puts me in an interesting position, for what you said is what I would have said in response to nearly everyone else's position to the contrary. So, I will take the contrary position then.

Surely you must notice that humans tend to have a mutual understanding of the meaning of certain terms without a formal definition. "Pornography" seems to be a good example and "rights" is another. All of law and custom are filled with terms that have no precise definition yet we function, with amazingly few lawsuits to settle the meaning. Such terms as "reasonable", "prompt", "plus or minus", "approximately", "well established", "mainline" (religions), "fair", etc. fill the law books. It may be, like the rest of the animals, we somehow understand vague terms just from the way they are used.

On 2): recently relatives from my family and my wife's family have visited my farm. Some on both sides, even though relatively poor, buy bottled water. One youngster was carrying a bottle of spring water imported from Canada! One evening while chatting, I asked the adults why they buy bottled water. They said that the city water was not fit to drink (but I have my own well). I asked them if they had any kind of proof. No, just hearsay.

People routinely make expensive decisions based on a meme planted in their heads without ever bothering to check it out. The "secondary smoke will kill you" is one of the biggest!

From Duane:
My great aunt is in her eighties. A couple of years ago she was very sick for quite a while and lost weight from 120 pounds down to about 100. She complained that she was having trouble regaining the weight she had lost. We visited her (She lives in Indiana) and went with her to get groceries. She bought diet soft drinks and "lite" everything. Why? I guess because all the other women she associates with buy that kind of thing.

Now she has very high blood pressure but doesn't want to go to the doctor to get medicine. She says one of her friends told her that a daily dose of vinegar and honey would bring the blood pressure down.

Before you say that this is an invalid example because she is probably senile, I'll tell you that I know a number of much younger people who do very similiar things.

From Leon:
I recognize that making a science out of human behavior may be an impossible task, however. The problem is that every thing that is "explained" is explained in terms of something else. That in turn is explained in something else. And so on ("turtles all the way down" as Steven Hawking quotes). A person comes to me and says that he believes in Z on blind faith. I find that if I try to build a case for Z, based on its causes, ultimately I have to accept something on blind faith. Have I made any progress? Is my explanation any better than his? I think so but many others do not. Scientists admit that at the bottom all is faith.

Yet, when their models are better than superficial blind faith because they are internally consistent. That is, when they build a model on admittedly unproven premises, the fact that the model survives for years without contradiction is somewhat of a proof that the model is correct. That to me is better than blind faith.

From Duane:
Logical arguments are by necessity based on certain premises or assumptions but if the premises are basic and simple and widely believed and if the logic is valid then the only way to attack the conclusions is by attacking the premises. This makes a much more sturdy case than just saying I believe its so because Joe told me so or because we've always believed that.

The trick, of course, is in defining terms and premises and keeping the logic valid. However, there is no reason that human behavior is any less a valid subject for this method than anything else.

An argument put forth once in a creation vs. evolution argument was that all the "so called" evidence for evolution was only there because the creator put it there to test the faith of man. I always thought that was the perfect argument. As far as I can tell there is no way to refute it and it simply comes down to a matter of whether or not you are willing to accept that premise.

From Leon:
That is true, of course, but a hard-nosed person will argue that by basing your proof on arbitrary assumptions, your proof still does not avoid the necessity of simply having faith in something. So, why bother with the proof? My belief is that the consistancy of the massive scientific structure built over a few assumptions is proof of its validity. Astrology, for example, enjoys no such success.

Well, I think complexity may be a problem. When I was working on my degree in Electrical Engineering, I had many friends who chose some field in the Humanities because Electrical Engineering was too complicated. This I found puzzling since electrical theory is very well defined, has relatively few variables and equations to deal with, and does almost exactly as theory would predict. The science of humans, on the other hand, is just the opposite!

Chaos theory that came along a few years ago has added another factor that would suggest that "understanding" humans or building a predictive science may be impossible. That theory showed us that for sufficiently complex phenomenon (such as the weather) even if you know the equations, you can't predict ultimate response to infinitely small disturbances.

Still -- just like other chaotic phenomena -- human responses can be predicted "on the average". In fact, I think humans are much more predictable, in mass, than is generally acknowledged. We have a serious problem with complying with "political correctness", as was displayed by the hubbub over the book *The Bell Curve*, which interferes with any serious development of a theory of humans.

Amazing! We are in agreement again. I am not used to such insightful thinking (as determined by the fact that I think the same way)! I came to the same conclusion as a result of my engineering training. In particular, in my career, I specialized in simulation and mathematical modelling. In simulation, we have two things that determine how a system will respond and grow: 1) the equations and 2) the initial conditions. If we are simulating the motion of an automobile, for instance, we have to state what condition the simulation starts with: position, velocity and acceleration.

Now let us take this to the system called the "universe". It evolves strictly bound by the functions that define it. But it had to start with initial conditions. Those initial conditions could be any thing! The universe could have started a million years ago or a millionth of a second ago and you can't tell the difference if the initial conditions were chosen appropriately!

That is a long way of saying the same thing you said in a sentence. :-{

Fm: Leon Felkins

I would like to make some general comments.

As is probably obvious from my writings, I believe that the universe in inherently diabolical. Most actions -- if not all -- have negative consequences to the intended result that may be even greater than the intended result. There are thousands of examples I could provide but one is the fact that drugs that kill germs often make the germs stronger and meaner than ever. (I just found a new book that discusses this concept, *Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences*. Have not read it yet.)

It may be that every significant problem faced by humanity is plagued by this problem. It may be that no significant problem has a solution! The diabolical nature of the Social Dilemmas, that I have written extensively about, may be just the tip of the iceberg.

But the Social Dilemmas do provide an excellent illustration of what I am talking about. The social dilemmas result from our confusion as to whether we are loners -- like eagles -- or social animals -- like ants. We have serious problems trying to be ants coming from our genetic makeup. The biologists say that the fundamental motivating force of life is genes trying to promote genes, i.e. *The Selfish Gene*, per Dawkins. The ant is social because the worker ants will sacrifice their lives to protect the queen which just happens to be where the genes are available for reproduction.

Such is not the case for Humans. Our genes selfishly try to promote the individual's genes. Our driving force is selfishness. Therefore, we have the Social Dilemmas. To socialize and to sacrifice for the group is unnatural for humans. We didn't have Social Dilemmas when we were organized as small hunter/gatherer families. Apparently, our natural state would be to live somewhat like wolves.

Yet, we see tremendous advantages to large civilizations. Most people would not seriously entertain the thought of going back to being aborigines. Therefore we are forever stuck with the Social Dilemmas. That is very serious. It could result in the destruction of humankind, as a minor "for instance".

Almost no one wants to hear this kind of talk. Humans seem to believe that if something is nasty or potentially disastrous, you shouldn't talk about it. That presents another philosophical issue worthy of discussion: "Is life better if nasty things are hidden as much as possible, or is it better to realistically face the situation?" I don't know, but I think it deserves discussion.

I have trouble with both liberals and conservatives on this issue. The conservatives have their head in the sand this way: they want to cling to the past because they recognize that social issues are extremely complex and it would be best to continue with what worked before. The problem is that what worked before may not work today because conditions are not the same. For one thing, we are not as innocent as we once were. But they are right on where they respect the complexity of life and the avoidance of poorly thought out "fixes".

The liberals seem to be unaware of "unintended" or "secondary" consequences. They seem to be extremely naive. They say, "Don't take the medicine if it tastes bad" seemingly unaware that they may die if they do not sometimes take uncomfortable precautions. On the other hand, as I mentioned above, their approach to life of avoiding the recognition of any "bad things" may be the best way to get through life. Who knows?

All this is provided to suggest general ideas for your "Perspectives". In line with this "diabolical nature of the universe", I could provide many examples. One that you might consider adding is the following:

Should the "Village" raise our children?

Consider the following scenario. You live next door to an otherwise decent couple that happens to beat the hell out of their children. The children seem exceptionally well behaved by today's standards but they obviously do suffer physically. What should be done? How much punishment is too much or too harsh (here we have the "Vagueness" problem which I discuss on my pages)? What is the role of the family vs. the "village"? Should raising children be left entirely to the parents?

Here we have a serious example of the "vagueness" issue. We know that we can't let parents beat their children to death. Yet we know that parents should be primarily responsible for raising their children and other people should leave them alone as long as punishments are minor and non-physical (why is physical worse than mental? I have seen children destroyed by mental harassment.). Where the "village" steps in is purely a judgement call with no obvious place to do it!

What is the answer? I will bet that you and all others do not know! It is just another part of the diabolical universe (this time resulting from our efforts to socialize, just like the Social Dilemmas).

To: Leon Felkins

Thought you might be interested in an article I read in the newspaper recently. It said that the Arkansas state legislature had passed a disaster relief bill to provide help to those who suffered losses in tornados widespread over the state on March 1st. The Governor, Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, refused to approve the bill because it called for relief for those affected by "acts of God". He said he did not believe that destructive and deadly forces should be attributed to God.

One of the legislators, on the other hand, said, "To say God didn't create tornadoes is just like saying he didn't create spring rains. If God didn't create this universe and all the forces in it, then I don't know who did."

I understand they are now trying to agree on using both the terms, "acts of God" and "natural disasters" in the law.

I see some basis for discussion here on at least three levels.

1. The stupidity of delaying much needed assistance to disaster victims due to theological debates.

2. Another example of how people in the real world have often been hurt by other people's religious beliefs. The best example, of course, is the great number killed in religious wars but perhaps we overlook the cumulative effect of thousands of less obvious examples such as this one. Another example is the recent vote in Congress on foreign aid for family planning. Some Republicans were for it because they said family planning would reduce the number of abortions. Others were against it because they said they were afraid the money might be used for abortions. (I suspect though that many people are against any type of birth control because they believe that it is important that as many babies as possible be born and that the quality of people's lives is unimportant because the only important thing is the number of souls available to be saved.)

3. Of course the larger question is the theological question of how bad things can happen in a universe controlled by a good God.

As you know, sometimes things I read in the news or see on television cause me to go off on a number of wild philosophical tangents. I really don't know if this is a blessing or a curse.

Hi Duane,

Excellent site, I'm glad it exists. By and large I agree with what you write with respect to the human condition (your Philosophy of Life section).

Everyone is an individual and, as such, orthodox mindsets (be they religious, scientific, political or philosophical) are never going to be able to answer every individual's particular version of 'Why am I here?'. The aim has to be for each to determine their own mindset, and constantly re-evaluate their thinking rather than subconciously accepting someone else's world view in toto. From this approach hopefully springs the way through which increased tolerance, consideration and respect of another's views may actually begin to make things a little better for us all.

Science, having overturned religion as the provider of all answers in the last 200 years or so, and having singularly failed to provide those answers itself, has somewhat accidentally led us to a position where we can at last begin to look for the answers within ourselves. Amid the headlong rush on the part of commercial and other interests towards building a technological god of whom we expect to be able to ask our most searching questions, I am glad to see that a byproduct is the formation of a global consciousness, where sane voices can be heard above the chatter and babble.

I'd like to link to your site, from my philosophy section, if you don't mind (and I'm sure you won't).

Sender: Simon Banton - freewheelin@phreak.compulink.co.uk


I'd like to submit my page for your consideration for inclusion on yours. It's titled "One Man's Thoughts: Soul Searching in Cyberspace." It's a mixture of philosophy, religion, humor, physics, ethics, sociology, and whatever else. In particular, I'm trying to take a "forum" approach by encouraging others to respond (which I then post). Thanx!

Sender: One Man - onemans@earthlink.net

From Duane:
I took a look at your site and I liked it. It is a very well done web site and your thoughts are interesting.

Your view of Einstein's Theory is interesting and makes me want to take time to review it again later and give it some thought.

Your view of death is based on a linear preception of time. If time is actually not linear but is simply a 4th dimension like the other three, then our existence in an afterlife or not is an accomplished fact which has, is, and will occur and from a non linear perspective the problems you mention with never ending time simply disappear.

From One Man:
Thanx a lot! Regarding the non-linear time: I've considered that and can't get around what I feel is a paradox. If it's linear, then I've covered that. If it's not, and I can only perceive it linearly (either now or in the afterlife), same problem. If it's non-linear, and I can deal with that somehow, then it's still a huge unknown. At some point I still ask, "Then What?" The word Then may not be appropriate because our terminology doesn't quite fit, but I still feel that if time has no meaning, then effectively I will have experienced all that can be experienced, and why should I go on. Of course, time being non-linear doesn't mean it's without meaning, but I guess I have a hard time envisioning it.

This is actually the heart of my whole philosophy and why I put the page up - I NEED to solve this problem so that I can be comfortable with life & death.

From Duane:
Each man has his own demons and solutions. From my perspective the solution to your stated demon lies in learning to envision time as it exists in a non linear manner. Another solution, of course, is in existentialism or Zen in which you learn to lie in and enjoy the sun this afternoon and take no thought for the morrow.

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