If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out through writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.

Anais Nin

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Institute for Science and Human Values,

It is impossible to live pleasantly without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking (when, for instance, one is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly) it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.” 
          Epicurus, quoted by: Jaakko Wallenius from Is it possible to live pleasantly without living wisely and honorably and justly?, Being Human

"I see that if philosophy is to be used as a really working base to build up a working system of ethics and morality, one needs just not be presented with all the possible ways to see these things, but one needs to pick and choose the ideas that do best serve just this purpose."
"I think that we need people who do really in their heart believe that philosophy can offer the answers we do need to make our live better and who are also willing to deliver this message to others."

My friend Jesse Christopherson of the Institute for Science and Human Values sent me an email yesterday about the Institute’s new forum section going live (sometime this afternoon); he wanted to know if I’d be willing to come and add some commentary, to which I gladly assented.

The Institute’s mission statement:

“We are committed to the enhancement of human values and scientific inquiry. This combines both compassion and reason in realizing ethical wisdom. It focuses on the principles of personal integrity: individual freedom and responsibility. It includes a commitment to social justice, planetary ethics, and developing shared values for the human family.”

With my typical over-exuberance I have decided to set out recruiting; the topic here is Humanism, and I am fortunate enough to know some of the very best of the rational breed.

Russell Blackford hails from the land-down-under. He is editor-in-chief of THE JOURNAL OF EVOLUTION AND TECHNOLOGY and co-editor of 50 VOICES OF DISBELIEF: WHY WE ARE ATHEISTS (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).

Dr. Blackford writes a popular and superb blog, Metamagician and the Hellfire Club -DEFENDING FREEDOM AND REASON, in which he was either kind enough or sufficiently distracted to include my own post on Islamophobia.

From Voices of Reason

“[W]e think it is important for Voices of Reason to be heard at this point in our history. Religious fanaticism seems to have become ever more successful in preventing even multicultural societies from discussing the merits, or otherwise, of religious ideologies versus humanist alternatives. Cartoonists and authors of books critical of religion have become popular targets for death threats by religious fanatics. Each week, it seems harder to keep the candle of reason alight. Yet, “respect” for the intolerant ideologues’ teachings has, it seems, become the order of the day, when intolerance of intolerance would arguably be a more appropriate response to religious fundamentalism (German speakers might compare the views of Henryk Broder). As philosopher Laura Purdy, and other contributors to this volume, argue, it is important to speak out when religious ideologies and their lobbyists encroach on our individual freedoms.”
“As we write, concerted attempts are being made at the level of the United Nations to cement a new concept into international law, the dangerous idea of “defamation of religion.” If successful, these efforts would make it even more dif´Čücult to criticize religious dogma, religion-based repression of individual rights, or the many cruel practices that are shielded, from time to time, by invocations of religion and culture. “


Tauriq Moosa, another good friend in Graduate study at the University of Cape Town., has a brilliant mind, and true appetite for fidelity of information and rational social perspectives, as well as aesthetic sense.  His recent post: 

“Here comes the concept of “significance”, a rational one premised on human as opposed to cosmic engagement. Here comes the final, winnowed outlook that looks at existence and faces it as reality rather than optimism and happy illusion. Wrapping our goals in the broken wings of hope, wishing they’ll take flight, has come to define our species; viewed from a distance, we are mumbling apes surrounded by goals with shattered spines that never took flight.” Read the whole post

I’m also looking forward to having Marek Sinason at SyMoN, Department of Psychology, BBS Centre (Hills), University of Birmingham, to engage here at the blog. At his link, he’s quoted “am broadly interested in concepts of time and models of timing, and how these impact on our scientific methodology and day to day behaviour.” But he really doesn’t hate words as much as it sounds like there. We have a mutually appreciation for the plasticity of language, and the proximity of words for parts/actions of our baser anatomy with words that mean other things in the same language can lead to mad-cap fun and look I wrote (coitus in parentheses). Marek will be answering some questions as an experiment in a post coming soon.  

And of course, http://emma-sparknotes.blogspot.com/ would most certainly belong among this proud company. Emma is like my doppleganger, I feel sure, but I still need to look up that word in the dictionary. We’ve been passing causes back and forth frantically for months. She has a passionate perspective on human rights and a rare elegance of thought. http://emma-sparknotes.blogspot.com/


As for myself, I frankly believe that every argument I’ve heard for a non-deterministic sequence of events has revealed itself as essentialsm. What you often hear in response especially to mechanistic (which is not different from “animal” or “human” for ourn heuristic purposes) or assertion of hard-determinism is a threat. “How great, a bunch of zombies,” or “Robots.” I’m not scared to be a robot, there is no cause for that existence to be discarded or derided~such all comes as begged question, simply extolling it as non-human.

If we are going to entertain the existence of experiential states (i.e., consciousness) in other animals, we must be willing to work at a theoretical level where arguments are adjudicated by the weight of evidence rather than definitive proof (Such approaches are easier to apply for certain aspects of animal consciousness than for others); such is, in my opinion, the legacy of Heisenberg and indeterminancy is that one exception does not negate theory.
A conversation between Einstein and Heisenberg.

Heisenberg: "One cannot observe the electron orbits inside the atom. [...] but since it is reasonable to consider only those quantities in a theory that can be measured, it seemed natural to me to introduce them only as entities, as representatives of electron orbits, so to speak."

Einstein: "But you don't seriously believe that only observable quantities should be considered in a physical theory?"

"I thought this was the very idea that your Relativity Theory is based on?" Heisenberg asked in surprise.

"Perhaps I used this kind of reasoning," replied Einstein, "but it is nonsense nevertheless. [...] In reality the opposite is true: only the theory decides what can be observed."

(translated from "Der Teil und das Ganze" by W. Heisenberg)
Humans are animals, but it is tedious to continually use the qualifier ‘‘other animals’’ when making contrasts to non-human animals. Whenever ‘‘animal’’ is used without the qualifier, it is simply for stylistic grace. At times the term ‘‘animalian’’ is also used when referring to human brain functions, and this is intended to mean the kinds of brain systems that are strikingly homologous in all mammals that have been studied.

The ultimate objects of moral assessment are people and their lives. Many today seem to have lost sight of it: How of ten are we told that we should show respect for other people, only to discover that what we are actually being asked to show respect for is how those other people live? 

The equation of the two should be resisted. We do not always respect a person by respecting how he lives. Sometimes quite the reverse. If someone is wasting his life, or endangering others, but still deserves to be respected, the default way to show him the respect that they and every other person deserves is to do something that improves the way they relate to themselves or society. Sometimes, of course, there is no action open to us that will yield any improvement in how he lives, while on other occasions the only things we can do are disproportionate. In such cases we have to tolerate his continuing to live as badly he does. But toleration is one thing, and respect is quite another.

Toleration is the moral virtue of those who appropriately curb their wish to eliminate what they do not respect. One cannot respect the way someone is living and tolerate it at the same time.

“Most humans feel the transcendent temptation, the emotional drive to festoon the universe with large-scale meaning”

Chairman Dr.Paul Kurtz, Professor of philosophy (retired emeritus) at the State University of New York at Amherst (Buffalo) and founder of the Center for Inquiry Transnational and Prometheus Books. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and humanist laureate and president of the International Academy of Humanism.
I don’t have a link to forum itself, that is coming later today, will update.

I hope everyone will try to stop by.


  1. As a poet in the wilderness, I am bewildered by the way we sacrifice our rights like a child to a dark god for the sake of so-called tolerance. Why should we tolerate bad ideas that serve to only constrain the growth of mankind?

  2. Religion can never reform mankind because religion is slavery.

  3. By all appearances, she is. But much more impressive is the degree of her compassion, and contempt for abuse of human rights.