Class Warfare Blog

April 5, 2021

Who Wants to Think? Really!

I have been reading a revealing and fascinating book of late (They Thought They Were Free, The Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer). The author interviewed ten ordinary Germans right after WW2 and came to think of them as friends. Many of the conclusions I had come to about the nature of the German people have been severely corrected. And, I have spent more than a little time reading about and viewing works on WW2, particularly about the Germans (I am also reading a new bio of Hitler).

Consider the following quote from a colleague of the author who was a German college professor.

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There is no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated by the machinations of ‘national enemies,’ without and within that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?”

Who wants to think?

This was an intellectual speaking, right after WW2, so things were fresh in mind.

Who wants to think, indeed?

I was immediately reminded of Richard Hofstadter’s book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (published in 1964, so also not long after the war). In that book, Hofstadter points out that there has been a large streak of anti-intellectualism in American culture from the beginning. (You may observe it in action right now: anti-vax, flat earth, chem trails, climate change is a hoax, etc. All of these are anti-expert and anti-intellectual efforts which find fertile soil to grow in our culture.)

Thinkers, bah, what do they know?

Of course, what I want to write about is . . . what the heck are they talking about? What is “thinking?”

At present we have no idea where conscious thoughts come from, and even less about subconscious mental processes. So, a conscious thought pops into your mind, what do you do? In most people, with most thoughts, we just ignore them and they go away. We need do nothing to make this happen. We don’t have to “shoo” away these thoughts (although I teach my archery students to do just that as there is no time to think non-helpful thoughts while trying to perform at archery). If a thought is important and ignored, it may come back. I tend to think that this is because whatever stimulated that thought in the first place (The house is on fire!) still exists and continues to stimulate that thought. Most thoughts just “go away” and they do not “come back.” And, since we don’t know where they come from, we certainly don’t know where they go to.

So, what distinguishes thinkers from those who do not want to think? Multiple things, I suspect, primarily thinkers are way more likely to grab that thought and examine it, which reinforces its existence, by injecting it into memory, first short-term memory and even long term memory (later). We consider that thought, as I am doing with “Who wants to think?” For intellectuals this is pleasant experience, or failing being that, at least stimulates one’s curiosity. I think it is in this “one thing leads to another” making of connections that much of this pleasure arises. By fitting a new thought in amongst the storehouses of ones memories, one is making that new thought part of what one “knows.” One is learning.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” Albert Einstein

Of course, we are not all alike. I remember a conversation I had while I was in grad school. It was over our backyard fence with a neighbor. She asked what I did and I said I was a student at the nearby college. (One doesn’t volunteer one is a chemist casually. Most people’s eyes glaze over then any conversation begun ends.) She responded with “Oh, you must have read a lot of books.” And I said, just “yes,” not the “thousands upon thousands” that was the truth of the matter (I was an avid reader from age 5.). She looked at me, smiled, and said “I read a book once.”

This natural ability to “let thoughts go” is the core of meditative practices. If you stop accepting thoughts, they come less and less frequently and finally, you get the dial tone of your mind. (I used to think of it as the empty TV screen static but that no longer exists for most people, so that metaphor is now dead/dying.)

Remember this?

If you have a mind like mine, you recover “normal programming” when a meditation is over rather quickly.

So, what do you think? (Do you see how cleverly I worked up to this question; neat, huh?)

PS I had an afterthought! It is clear to me that people who like to think, often have specialties: hobbies, topics, academic disciplines, etc. in which they exert their thinking and then other parts of their lives in which they think as little as possible. So, thinkers are rarely generalists. They choose what it is they will think deeply about, possibly creating a refuge from others. (Intellectuals often have poor social skills and retreat into mental pursuits as a way of escaping the bewildering nature of interpersonal relations. This is why scientists are often considered to be geeks . . . because they are.)

March 29, 2021

You Have a Conscience, Right?

I have been writing about the major axis existing for all sentient social species, that of dividing up our collective responsibilities from our individual responsibilities. In science fiction there are species with “hive minds” in which the individuals are totally subordinate to the collective (think of bees or the Borg). There are also species that are total individualistic. These are, of course, fictional, because we do not see these on Earth, where we are basically the only sentient social species.

I had a bit of a revelation when I heard a recent discussion of what we call our conscience. It was referred to as a subconscious function of our minds but I don’t see it that way. It seems to me that our morality is either taught to us or learned by us and so is like any other knowledge that we acquire. Possibly it is tinged with emotion more than anything else. I am sure you can remember occasions when as a child, you had an inner debate that began with the thought “If I do I am going to get in trouble!” (or feelings that amount to those words). Such thoughts/feelings come from where thoughts come from (which we still don’t know) and are conscious, not subconscious. They may be accompanied by emotional affect (tingling sensation, quivering, shuddering, etc.).

So, what is this “conscience thing”? I suspect it is a label we give our thoughts on issues that fall into the category of morality. I don’t think it is a thing in itself, like curiosity seems to be. It is, in my humble opinion, a social construct, the monitor so to speak of our social compact with one another. This is why in some cultures our consciences include feelings of how to deal with witches and in others this is absent.

So, basically, the fact that we recognize that “having a conscience is a good thing” is a recognition of our collective responsibilities to one another. It is rare, I suggest, that our consciences provide any guidance for us when the only person affected by the triggering action is us ourselves. Some claim that individual responsibilities come up in such a context religiously, but I suggest that those are collective feelings brought about by the teachings of a religious community. It is not a god which is the enforcer of our behavior but the approval or disapproval of those in our religious community. This is supported by the wide variations of what is acceptable behavior in various religions.

What this amounts to, if my supposition is correct (that our conscience is a monitor of our collective responsibility of others), is that if a matter impinges upon one’s conscience, then the responsibility is communal, not individual. If you see a child suffering because his/her parents’ cannot afford to take them to a doctor and you “feel bad” about that (empathy) but also pangs of conscience, then you are acknowledging that this is an area that belongs under our collective responsibilities and not just an individual responsibility.

Of course, there is no such thing as complete honesty when sharing feelings, consciences, etc.

February 5, 2021

Is Consciousness an Illusion?

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
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We distinguish between two modes of thinking: conscious and unconscious. The primary distinction is conscious thinking is something we are aware of as it happens. There are various theories of what “consciousness” is but none has reached the status of being preeminent, so those theories are not guides for us. We have experiments galore and speculation in excess but little, really, to go on.

The crux of the matter is that some researchers believe that consciousness is an illusion because we cannot know our thoughts directly. We definitely do not yet know where our thoughts come from. Certainly some come from memory, which can be consider to be, in part, thought storage. But ask any old person whether they have ever experienced the situation where they know they have memorized something but no matter how hard they try they cannot recall the exact thing, only to have it pop up later, often much later. (Happens to everyone eventually.) So, recall of memories isn’t an exact science just yet.

We are learning more and more about memory, but still what about the thoughts we seem to be aware of as they happen?

Some say these are an illusion because we are not aware of the processes that create those thoughts and may never be aware of them. That we may never be aware of them seems acceptable. Why would evolution provide us with a constant stream of background chatter that might distract us in a life threatening situation? But, again, so what?

We seem to be aware of some thoughts as they are processed and if that is an illusion, it is a useful one. I feel that the mental trait that distinguishes us from other animals the most is imagination. Many animals can store memories and, I would suppose, be able to compare a current situation with one stored in memory (otherwise, what are memories for). But, we seem to be able to create what is essentially a false memory, based upon rules we see displayed around us. The classic case is “was that rustle in the tall grasses due to the wind or a leopard stalking me for a meal?” I can see both of these possibilities in my “mind’s eye” and make a decision based upon both the likelihood of these things being the case and also the repercussions if I guess wrong. I can take a memory of a leopard and weave it into the scene in front of me creating, as it were, a new memory, which can them be processed as other memories are.

But imagination would be a poor tool if we had to call it up when we thought it might be useful (Computer, execute program “Imagination.”). That is much too slow for many possible scenarios that threaten our existence. So, our imagination force feeds us. How is that done? I don’t know. But it certainly creates at least one category of “thoughts that come to us.”

When someone declares something mental to be an illusion, I say “Join the crowd.” It seems that everything mental is an illusion. Conscious thought may be illusory, but it is the illusion that includes us being aware of the thoughts as they are fed to us. That’s all.

There are those who argue that reality is an illusion, for whom I have the same argument. It seems that we take in sensory information and create a simulacrum of the “reality” around us. We update it as we move around. (They say we create our own reality … no, we create our own simulacrum of reality.) Why we do this is almost obvious. For one it is a form of storage control and the other is that we do not have the capacity to acquire and store a whole database of information on our current situation (standing at a bus stop). Then a new acquisition needs to happen because a bus has driven by (not our bus), but what do we do with the previous set of data? Do we dump it to make space for the new acquisitions, or do we just adjust those parts that have changed, kind up like how computer backup programs make “incremental backups.”

All of the colors in our mental landscape are “illusory” to the extent that they are constructed from sensory input. Genetics studies show that we have three color sensors in our retinas but that two of them are related. One, apparently, was created through a minor mutation of the other. So, what that means is that our original “design” (via evolution) had us seeing in what is called duochrome. If that mutation hadn’t happened, then what we saw then would be considered normal. No one would wonder why we didn’t have “full color” vision.

Old duotone/sepia photo (only two colors are brown and black)

So, are colors illusory? I suggest we just add in front of any description of a mental attribute of humans “an illusion of . . .” Such a claim, “consciousness is illusory,” doesn’t get us anywhere. We just have to explain the illusion of consciousness rather than the mystery of consciousness.

And I find that the claim that we are “not aware of the processes that create those thoughts and may never be aware of them” to be specious. We are trying to explain/understand consciousness, not the causes of consciousness. One thing at a time here. And even if we do explain both, clearly not being aware of the process that result in consciousness does not limit our use of conscious thinking, just as not understanding how our muscles work doesn’t inhibit our use of them.

If we collectively learn where conscious thoughts come from, so that we have parity with how we collectively know how muscles work, we still do not need to be aware of them to use their product. It seems to be an additional criterion has been placed upon understanding the mystery of conscious thought—that we be aware of the process that cause the thoughts we are aware of, which reminds me of the “tortoises all the way down story.”

Other than such a claim getting one some philosophical street cred and maybe a whole slew of academic articles (it is still “publish or perish”?) such a claim doesn’t seem to really further our understanding.

So, what are your thoughts?

January 25, 2021

Astrology is the Old Homeopathy

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:01 am
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If you did not already know, homeopathy is bunk, complete bunk. Core principles in homeopathy are things like “the more you dilute a medicine, the stronger it gets.” Imagine a bar serving drinks using that principle, e.g. “Let me freshen up that drink with a little tap water,” spaketh the Barman.

Astrology has been around far longer than homeopathy but it, too, is a zombie idea, an idea that died a long time ago but just won’t stay dead.

For some strange reason, fairly reputable sources of news and comment still provide “astrological advice.” None of these advice columns explains how it is that the positions of the planets in the night sky, some which are upwards of a billion miles away, have any affect whatsoever on events in Earth? Clearly the moon has an effect on things like tides and whatnot, but other than that?

I am sure the powers that be in these news organs consider “astrology columns” to be entertainment, but actions have consequences. By publishing such nonsense, the publishers are encouraging people to consider causes and effects that are in no way connected. This does not exactly promote good thinking or good behavior amongst the readers of said outlets.

Now, I am sure the circulation managers of those outlets will argue that mixing in entertainment with their “newsy” articles will facilitate views or purchases of subscriptions. This, I believe, is true . . . which is why we have the comics. And I don’t see people planning their day around their morning Dilbert strip.

December 23, 2020

Conjunction Submunction, Part 2

In Part 1 of Conjunction Submunction I wrote: “I think the majority of the interest (in the conjunction) comes from people who still dabble in astrology. “OMG, Jupiter is in the house of Saturn? OMG!” (I know nothing about astrology, so that is clearly made up and if I offend any astrology people with my ignorance, well, you deserve it.)”

As things usually go, I received shortly thereafter what a “real” astrologer thinks it means, to wit:

“At 12:21 p.m. CT the Great Conjunction forms between Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius, showing us where innovation, community, and opportunity intersect. This is a rare occurrence as Jupiter and Saturn meet every 20 years and are doing so in air signs after over 200 years of being in earth signs. This conjunction is all about doing the work it takes to be free — individually, and collectively.

“Saturn is a harsh taskmaster, especially in a fixed sign like Aquarius. Aquarius energy can be full of peace, friendship, and humanity, but do not mistake the other end of the spectrum. Aquarius likes to connect, but exclusion is the flipside of inclusion and as our world begins to meld in ways that many don’t like, we may find many rebelling against the process of creating a humane, global community. This is where we learn the tough lessons of being human. Do what you say you will or stay silent. Rewards will not be given to lazy thinkers under these skies. If you’re dedicated to being silly, you’ll get goofy results. Edit and enhance your network with a discerning eye. Build friendships genuinely yet intelligently.”

So, now you know. (I always wanted to know where innovation, community, and opportunity intersected. I thought it was in Silicon Valley, but now I understand it is up in the sky . . . wtf?)

December 22, 2020

Conjunction Submunction

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:12 am
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There has been quite a stir in the astronomical community regarding a conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter, out two largest planets. Do realize that these planets are “close” to one another in the sky merely in that they are close to a line of sight of someone standing on the planet Earth. They are actually about 450 million miles (730 million kilometers) apart at closest appearance.

So, why is this worth taking note of? Well, it isn’t there isn’t anything we can learn per se from this “event” or rather nonevent.

I suspect the interest is driven from (for astronomy geeks) having witnesses something that only happens every century or so. Blend in members of the astronomy community that want to get as much airtime as possible to establish the standing of their field. But I think the majority of the interest comes from people who still dabble in astrology. “OMG, Jupiter is in the house of Saturn? OMG!” (I know nothing about astrology, so that is clearly made up and if I offend any astrology people with my ignorance, well, you deserve it.)

Are you one of those who set up camera or telescope to get a view or picture of the two planets in the same frame? Or, did you, like me, wait for the flood of images posted on the internet to arrive? With regard to many of them, I could have done a better job using Photoshop, but then it wouldn’t be real, would it. I mean real in the meaning that it has anything to do with, well, anything.

Addendum As you might be able to tell, I am working on achieving my Curmudgeon Badge in the Old Timer Scouts program. It is on my bucket list.

At the Risk of Being Overbearing . . .

I offer a link to yet another aspect of the Pfizer vaccine roll-out kerfuffle. This post explains why the critic “IM Doc” was disappointed in the article in the New England Journal of Medicine, which exists to inform people, especially doctors, regarding what they need to know.

Whether this can be laid at the fee of the NEJM or Pfizer is almost irrelevant (almost, but not quite). It does, however, lead one to wonder how informed the opinions of our own doctors are.

A Document Maven Looks at the Pfizer Vaccine Paper in the New England Journal of Medicine

 

December 18, 2020

Follow-up on the IM Doc COVID Letter

Filed under: Politics,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:19 pm
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I link to the follow-up article below but note that someone was suspicious as to why the doctor didn’t use his name, and used the moniker “IM Doc” instead (standing for internal medicine doctor). Apparently the author was afraid he might lose his job if he went full on public. Can’t say whether that fear is valid, but since this is a Class Warfare blog, erring on the side of caution seems prudent.

The post is HERE.

December 17, 2020

An Open Letter to the Many Flat Earthers Now in Existence

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:21 pm
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Dear Flat Earthers,
Many people have been derogatory of your belief that the Earth is flat. Please note that they are belittling your belief, not you per se. You, personally, are an idiot, but that is probably not your fault.

Here are any number of accessible approaches for discovering the shape of our beloved planet. Enjoy!

* * *

Use Your Phone!
On Christmas Day, here in Chicago, I expect there to be snow on the ground because, well, it is winter. On Christmas Day I can pick up my phone and dial up anyone in Australia and ask them “What season is it?” They will tell you that it is summer in Australia. You might want to ask your flat Earth mentors how it could be winter and summer simultaneously on a flat Earth.

Use Your Phone!
Go to a globe and pick a spot half way around the Earth (I know it is a false representation in your belief, but humor me.) In the middle of the day, phone somebody at or near that spot. Call a hotel, they are always open. Ask whoever responds “Is it light or dark outside?” They will tell you that it is dark where they are. You might want to ask your flat Earth mentors how it could be light and dark simultaneously on a flat Earth.

Look Up What Local Time Was
In the US there was this concept of “local time” which was that “noon” was when the sun was at its highest point in its arc. You could call up people on the telephone who were not that far away and ask them what time it was and they would tell you something different from what your clock was telling you. The farther away they were, the greater the difference would be. On a flat Earth the time would be the same everywhere.

Look Up What Time Zones Are
I am writing this in the central time zone in the U.S. These zones were created at the behest of the railroad industry whose dispatchers were going crazy making up schedules for trains when every place had their own times. By creating these “zones” everything would be exactly one hour off from those in neighboring zones, two hours off for the next over zones, and so on. If you don’t believe me . .  pick up your phone and dial up a friend who lives a considerable distance (east-west) away from you and ask them what time it is. The time they state will be a whole number of hours away from your time. Heck, even the NFL knows this. When I lived on the left coast, the games started at 10 AM and 1 PM. Now that I live in the central time zone, the games start at 12 Noon and 3 PM. Over New York way the games start at 1PM and 4 PM. Do you think those games are replayed in one hour increments? Nope, time zones!. You might want to ask your flat earth mentors how it could be that simultaneous games start at different times on a flat Earth.

Watch the Video
Astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) have made continuous videos of an entire orbit of the Earth. It takes only about an hour and a half about the length of a typical Hollywood movie. During the whole movie the earth appears round, and yet it is clear that different continents are passing in our view.

Now you may argue that NASA made this movie as propaganda for the Round Earth Conspiracy. It is certainly within our CGI abilities at this point, but you may want to ask why NASA would want to do such a thing? Plus, many astronauts have taken their own cameras aboard and taken pictures for themselves and they show the same thing. How could the Round Earth Conspiracy have allowed that to happen? It must be incompetence! Conspiracies aren’t what they used to be!

Da Balloon, Boss, Da Balloon
Many amateurs, unaffiliated with the government, have launched rockets and balloons high up into the atmosphere to take pictures. Every damned one of those pictures shows that the Earth is round. How come all of those cameras ended up pointed at the curved edge of your round and flat disk Earth? Such a coincidence!

An Oldie But Goodie #1
Occasionally, during a lunar eclipse, you can see the shadow of the earth falling upon the Moon. The shadow is always circular. This would be true if the flat earth were always dead on to the Moon, but the Moon orbits the Earth and wouldn’t a flat Earth be edgewise, often as not, and wouldn’t that create a non-round shadow on the Moon? Inquiring minds want to know.

An Oldie But Goodie #2
It was claimed that one of the first demonstrations of the earth being round was the observation of ships sailing west from Europe/England could be observed for a while but the ship itself was lost to sight while the mast was still visible. This would not happen on a flat Earth. The whole ship would just get smaller and smaller as it sailed west.

For pity’s sake, I live 22 stories up and the shores of Lake Michigan and I cannot see anything directly opposite me in Michigan. All I can see is water, with any kind of magnification I can muster. And I am not looking across the widest part of this lake! If the earth were flat, the lake would be flat and I could see the Michigan shore.

And Finally . . .

All of the fricking satellites! Do the math. What kind of orbit is stable around a flat disk earth? Answer none! And there are hundreds of the danged things in orbit. Well, maybe a circular orbit above the edge, but that would eliminate all communication satellites, GPS, cell phone, etc.

Also, just for giggles. Look up what a Foucault pendulum is, And explain its behavior based upon a flat Earth.

PS You may be getting good vibes in your special knowledge that you know something other people do not. However, would not that special feeling be more worthwhile were you to volunteer at a food bank or a day care center or senior center? Wouldn’t doing something worthwhile be more rewarding that making a statement about how those pointy-headed intellectuals aren’t so smart?

PPS I have seen the cute models with the Sun and Moon on sticks rotating around (see photo above). If that were the case, everyone could see the Sun and Moon all day, every day. (There is straight line access to both objects in that model from everywhere on the flat disk.) Do you see the Sun and Moon all day, every day? No? Maybe someone who had more creativity than knowledge came up with those models. They do sell well, I must admit, so maybe their interest is commercial.

PPPS Regarding the 200 foot wall of ice that supposedly exists at the “edge of the disk,” supposedly so all the water doesn’t flow off and be lost into space. By now don’t you think someone would have sailed next to that wall all of the way? That distance would be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 28,000 mile trip. Has anyone ever report such a thing? Hmm, I wonder why not.

December 13, 2020

A Brilliant Piece of Writing

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:36 am
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On Sundays, I like to share something of a “spiritual” nature. This is a brilliant piece of writing about reading “scripture.” I recommend it highly (albeit is a long piece).

Religious Faith in Scriptural Fiction

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