Sunday, June 15, 2008

"The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

I recommend that you read this little book titled "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran. It is freely available HERE along with his other works and some information about him.

I even emailed the parts about Children and Marriage to my mother. Because what Gibran says in those chapters is extremely relevant to my mother's relationship with me&my brother and my father, they are almost like written for us. :)

After reading a chapter of the book, if you get a feeling that you didn't understand it completely, then I suggest that you try to read it over and over again and think about what the author aims to tell the reader. I'm still only halfway through the book, but I found every metaphor, every seemingly nonsense-phrase to be of a lot of meaning.

I'm not saying the book is flawless, but at least I could assert the flaws I perceived to certain conditions and was able to ignore some of them without getting upset at the author. For example: the impossibility of the author knowing back then that a mindset he defends can actually have tragic consequences under certain conditions.

That's also one of the reasons why Anthony Daniels, a psychiatrist, criticizes the book pretty harshly. But I found his criticism to be a little too emotional and biased, especially for a psychiatrist. I also watched one of his interviews, he seems to be interested in the harmful effects of lack of self-control or authority. He digs really deep to interpret the teachings in a pessimistic way and this blinds him to some points in the book.

There is one thing though: I'm not sure if someone can understand the book at all, if one doesn't already know what the author tries to say. Perhaps one has to go through the experience himself/herself* before being able to appreciate this work of art, or any other for that matter... I'll write my thoughts about art when I can find some time. About its advantages, disadvantages, limits and so on... It'll be sort of Art vs. Science I suppose. But that's it for now...

[ Interesting Fact: Did you know that there is only one word in Turkish for both he and she? : "O". Notice the unnecessary gender differentiation(sexism?) in the English language, the same in German and all other western languages I guess. The definite articles are also unnecessary for practical communication purposes, should better be removed, especially from German.]

Turkish Language - The Articles

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Value of Science - By Richard Feynman

I finished "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" today. I found the last chapter very valuable and thought that I should share it. One of Feynman's most eloquent public lectures. Also available in "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman".

PDF Version:

Of all its many values, the greatest
must be the freedom to doubt.

" First, the 1988 Introduction by Feynman himself (he died one month later):

When I was younger, I thought science would make good things for everybody. It was obviously useful; it was good. During the war I worked on the atomic bomb. This result of science was obviously a very serious matter: it represented the destruction of people.

After the war I was very worried about the bomb. I didn't know what the future was going to look like, and I certainly wasn't anywhere near sure that we would last until now. Therefore one question was—is there some evil involved in science?

Put another way—what is the value of the science I had dedicated myself to—the thing I loved—when I saw what terrible things it could do? It was a question I had to answer.

“The Value of Science” is a kind of report, if you will, on many of the thoughts that came to me when I tried to answer that question.

Richard Feynman, January 1988

Then the lecture itself from 1955:

From time to time people suggest to me that scientists ought to give more consideration to social problems—especially that they should be more responsible in considering the impact of science on society. It seems to be generally believed that if the scientists would only look at these very difficult social problems and not spend so much time fooling with less vital scientific ones, great success would come of it.

It seems to me that we do think about these problems from time to time, but we don't put a full-time effort into them—the reasons being that we know we don't have any magic formula for solving social problems, that social problems are very much harder than scientific ones, and that we usually don't get anywhere when we do think about them.

I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy—and when he talks about a non-scientific matter, he sounds as naive as anyone untrained in the matter. Since the question of the value of science is not a scientific subject, this talk is dedicated to proving my point—by example.

The first way in which science is of value is familiar to everyone. It is that scientific knowledge enables us to do all kinds of things and to make all kinds of things. Of course if we make good things, it is not only to the credit of science; it is also to the credit of the moral choice which led us to good work. Scientific knowledge is an enabling power to do either good or bad - but it does not carry instructions on how to use it. Such power has evident value - even though the power may be negated by what one does with it.

I learned a way of expressing this common human problem on a trip to Honolulu. In a Buddhist temple there, the man in charge explained a little bit about the Buddhist religion for tourists, and then ended his talk by telling them he had something to say to them that they would never forget—and I have never forgotten it. It was a proverb of the Buddhist religion:

To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven;
the same key opens the gates of hell.

What then, is the value of the key to heaven? It is true that if we lack clear instructions that enable us to determine which is the gate to heaven and which the gate to hell, the key may be a dangerous object to use.

But the key obviously has value: how can we enter heaven without it?

Instructions would be of no value without the key. So it is evident that, in spite of the fact that it could produce enormous horror in the world, science is of value because it can produce something.

Another value of science is the fun called intellectual enjoyment which some people get from reading and learning and thinking about it, and which others get from working in it. This is an important point, one which is not considered enough by those who tell us it is our social responsibility to reflect on the impact of science on society.

Is this mere personal enjoyment of value to society as a whole? No! But it is also a responsibility to consider the aim of society itself. Is it to arrange matters so that people can enjoy things? If so, then the enjoyment of science is as important as anything else.

But I would like not to underestimate the value of the world view which is the result of scientific effort. We have been led to imagine all sorts of things infinitely more marvelous than the imaginings of poets and dreamers of the past. It shows that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man. For instance, how much more remarkable it is for us all to be stuck—half of us upside downby a mysterious attraction to a spinning ball that has been swinging in space for billions of years than to be carried on the back of an elephant supported on a tortoise swimming in a bottomless sea.

I have thought about these things so many times alone that I hope you will excuse me if I remind you of this type of thought that I am sure many of you have had, which no one could ever have had in the past because people then didn't have the information we have about the world today. For instance, I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think.

There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages
before any eyes could see
year after year
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest
tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the sun
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity
living things
masses of atoms
DNA, protein
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land
here it is
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering: I
a universe of atoms
an atom in the universe.

The same thrill, the same awe and mystery, comes again and again when we look at any question deeply enough. With more knowledge comes a deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still. Never concerned that the answer may prove disappointing, with pleasure and confidence we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries—certainly a grand adventure!

It is true that few unscientific people have this particular type of religious experience. Our poets do not write about it; our artists do not try to portray this remarkable thing. I don't know why. Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read the music. For instance, the scientific article may say, “The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one-half in a period of two weeks.” Now what does that mean?

It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat - and also in mine, and yours—is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.

So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week's potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago—a mind which has long ago been replaced.

To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out - there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.

When we read about this in the newspaper, it says “Scientists say this discovery may have importance in the search for a cure for cancer.” The paper is only interested in the use of the idea, not the idea itself. Hardly anyone can understand the importance of an idea, it is so remarkable. Except that, possibly, some children catch on. And when a child catches on to an idea like that, we have a scientist. It is late—although not too late - for them to get the spirit when they are in our universities, so we must attempt to explain these ideas to children.

I would now like to turn to a third value that science has. It is a little less direct, but not much. The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn't know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certaintysome most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.

Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don't know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question—to doubt—to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained. Herein lies a responsibility to society.

We are all sad when we think of the wondrous potentialities human beings seem to have, as contrasted with their small accomplishments. Again and again people have thought that we could do much better. Those of the past saw in the nightmare of their times a dream for the future. We, of their future, see that their dreams, in certain ways surpassed, have in many ways remained dreams. The hopes for the future today are, in good share, those of yesterday.

It was once thought that the possibilities people had were not developed because most of the people were ignorant. With universal education, could all men be Voltaires? Bad can be taught at least as efficiently as good. Education is a strong force, but for either good or evil.

Communications between nations must promote understandingso went another dream. But the machines of communication can be manipulated. What is communicated can be truth or lie. Communication is a strong force, but also for either good or evil.

The applied sciences should free men of material problems at least. Medicine controls diseases. And the record here seems all to the good. Yet there are some patiently working today to create great plagues and poisons for use in warfare tomorrow.

Nearly everyone dislikes war. Our dream today is peace. In peace, man can develop best the enormous possibilities he seems to have. But maybe future men will find that peace, too, can be good and bad. Perhaps peaceful men will drink out of boredom. Then perhaps drink will become the great problem which seems to keep man from getting all he thinks he should out of his abilities.

Clearly, peace is a great force—as are sobriety, material power, communication, education, honesty, and the ideals of many dreamers. We have more of these forces to control than did the ancients. And maybe we are doing a little better than most of them could do. But what we ought to be able to do seems gigantic compared with our confused accomplishments.

Why is this? Why can't we conquer ourselves? Because we find that even great forces and abilities do not seem to carry with them clear instructions on how to use them. As an example, the great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior seems to have a kind of meaninglessness. The sciences do not directly teach good and bad.

Through all ages of our past, people have tried to fathom the meaning of life. They have realized that if some direction or meaning could be given to our actions, great human forces would be unleashed. So, very many answers have been given to the question of the meaning of it all. But the answers have been of all different sorts, and the proponents of one answer have looked with horror at the actions of the believers in anotherhorror, because from a disagreeing point of view all the great potentialities of the race are channeled into a false and confining blind alley. In fact, it is from the history of the enormous monstrosities created by false belief that philosophers have realized the apparently infinite and wondrous capacities of human beings. The dream is to find the open channel.

What, then, is the meaning of it all? What can we say to dispel the mystery of existence?

If we take everything into account—not only what the ancients knew, but all of what we know today that they didn't know—then I think we must frankly admit that we do not know.

But, in admitting this, we have probably found the open channel.

This is not a new idea; this is the idea of the age of reason. This is the philosophy that guided the men who made the democracy that we live under. The idea that no one really knew how to run a government led to the idea that we should arrange a system by which new ideas could be developed, tried out, and tossed out if necessary, with more new ideas brought in-a trial-and-error system. This method was a result of the fact that science was already showing itself to be a successful venture at the end of the eighteenth century. Even then it was clear to socially minded people that the openness of possibilities was an opportunity, and that doubt and discussion were essential to progress into the unknown. If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar.

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. It is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we say we have the answers now, so young and ignorant as we are. If we suppress all discussion, all criticism, proclaiming “This is the answer, my friends; man is saved!” we will doom humanity for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination. It has been done so many times before.

It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations. "


Make sure you read Cargo Cult Science too. Here more of that sort.
Actually read everything Feynman has ever said/written...especially if you're a scientist and want to be a better one...

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Ok dear people...

I think that the main problem with us is the lack of motivation to act -apart from the blindness which causes people to not to notice the need for it.

People don't seem to believe that it's possible to make a change, it just seems too hard, we don't have enough power etc. etc…. Apart from the fact that it is possible to make a change –obviously-, I want to focus on the psychological side of all this. I might be able to write a longer detailed text but this should give you an idea of what I mean:

It may be that moderns see hope as a vice because when forced to choose between hope and scepticism (which they read as realism), they would rather be realists and sceptics. But they are only on the horns of this dilemma because they falsely think of optimism-pessimism as bipolar. …

Although optimism and pessimism might seem like opposites, in psychological terms they do not function in this way. Having more of one does not mean you have less of the other. The factors that reduce one do not necessarily increase the other. On many occasions in life we need both in equal supply. Antonio Gramsci famously called for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will": the one the spur to action, the other the resilience to believe that such action will result in meaningful change even in the face of adversity.
Hope can become a force for social change when it combines optimism and pessimism in healthy proportions.

Hope is not much use on its own. It is most adaptive when combined with integrative complexity, that is, the capacity to contemplate the complexity of problems, seeing them from multiple perspectives. One reason high-hope people overcome helplessness is that they more clearly conceptualize their goals than low-hope people. They also cope more adaptively because they generate alternative paths to their goals, especially when the path they try first is blocked.

Psychologists tell us that optimists have a superior ability to attend to and elaborate negative information and to then use this information to revise their coping strategies. Hope engenders more active coping, reduces denial, and prevents disengagement from stressful situations. Paradoxically, for those obsessed with the virtues of pessimism for correcting errors, the adaptiveness engendered by hope means that optimists are actually quicker to disengage from unsolvable laboratory tasks. It follows from this that optimists need their pessimistic side. What seems to lead people to become depressive and helpless is not so much pessimism -which is contingently healthy- , as “pessimistic rumination”, an inability to flip out of pessimism into optimism.

Hope is aligned with reason and action and has social roots that empower individuals and collectivities.

Through “parental- and peer-scaffolding” we are taught the process of hope,we learn its social etiquette – how to empower others through the gift of hope and how to empower ourselves through receiving the hope that others offer. Like all social phenomena, hope can go very wrong. But regardless of outcomes, hope we must. It remains the human beacon of engagement with the task of mapping our destinies.

If hope is at the core of our being, the question becomes how do we hope productively, not only as individuals, but also as collectivities? We refer to a positive form of this process – hope that is genuinely and critically shared by a group – as collective hope.

So to sum it up; it’s all about being pessimistic enough to notice the problems, and turning this pessimism into optimistic action, in order to shape our own future into something we want it to be.

This text was a combination of what I found in the wikipedia page about optimism and what I found after doing a little more research about what I read at that wikipedia page and the source of all these thoughts was a chat I had with my brother and with a friend, and finally watching a little documentary about Noam Chomsky. I liked his last words in it:

"... Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will ..."

Assembling that text was a lot of fun by the way, alone reading and having to type some of that stuff is motivating, I recommend it. :)

And to be honest I should tell you that I changed some sentences slightly, so the text might be a little manipulative. But the change is absolutely minimum, I can assure you... Besides even if it is, it is only positively manipulative, seriously...


See also: Hope as a Martial Art

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Glance into The Past - Michael Jackson

I just watched these old music videos from the legendary Michael Jackson. These songs are really powerful, and they are nowadays more relevant than ever... "Earth Song" could be considered even more important than John Lennon's "Imagine" I suppose... He even mentions the Israel/Palestine conflict in it, that was a surprise to me.

It's also interesting to know that the guy who wrote these songs lives now an isolated life, who knows where or how... and will he ever turn into one of those old guys with inferior physical capabilities? I doubt it.

UPDATE: See! This was what I meant; he died at 50... It was just not possible for someone so excluded from reality to live a long healthy life... He certainly was something interesting though.

1995: Earth Song

What about sunrise?
What about rain?
What about all the things
That you said we were to gain..?
What about killing fields?
Is there a time?
What about all the things
That you said was yours and mine...?
Did you ever stop to notice
All the blood weve shed before?
Did you ever stop this notice
This crying earth this we make sure?

Aaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaah

What have we done to the world?
Look what weve done...
What about all the peace
That you pledge your only son..?
What about flowering fields?
Is there a time?
What about all the dreams
That you said was yours and mine..?
Did you ever stop to notice
All the children dead from war?
Did you ever stop to notice
This crying earth this we make sure?

Aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaah

I used to dream
I used to glance beyond the stars
Now I dont know where we are
Although I know weve drifted far

Aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaaah
Aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaaah

Hey, what about yesterday?
(what about us)
What about the seas?
(what about us)
The heavens are falling down!
(what about us)
I cant even breathe!
(what about us)
What about everything
(what about us)
I have given you?
(what about us)
What about natures worth?
Its our planets womb
(what about us)
What about animals?
(what about us)
Weve turned kingdoms to dust!
(what about us)
What about elephants?
(what about us)
Have we lost their trust?
(what about us)
What about crying whales?
(what about us)
Were ravaging the seas!
(what about us)
What about forest trails
(ooo, ooo)
Burnt despite our pleas?
(what about us)
What about the holy land
(what about us)
Torn apart by creed?
(what about us)
What about the common man?
(what about us)
Cant we set him free?
(what about us)
What about children dying?
(what about us)
Cant you hear them cry?
(what about us)
Where do we go wrong?
(ooo, ooo)
Someone tell me why!?
(what about us)
What about baby boy?
(what about us)
What about the days?
(what about us)
What about all their joy?
(what about us)
What about the men?
(what about us)
What about the crying man?
(what about us)
What about abraham?
(what about us)
What about death again?
(ooo, ooo)
Do we give a damn!!??

Aaaaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaaaah...

1988: Man In The Mirror

Im gonna make a change,
For once in my life
Its gonna feel real good,
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right . . .

As i, turn up the collar on my
Favourite winter coat
This wind is blowin my mind
I see the kids in the street,
With not enough to eat
Who am i, to be blind?
Pretending not to see
Their needs
A summers disregard,
A broken bottle top
And a one mans soul
They follow each other on
The wind ya know
cause they got nowhere to go
Thats why I want you to know

Im starting with the man in the mirror
Im asking him to change his ways
And no message could have
Been any clearer
If you wanna make the world
A better place
Take a look at yourself, and
Then make a change

Ive been a victim of a selfish
Kind of love
Its time that I realize
That there are some with no
Home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me,
Pretending that theyre not alone?

A willow deeply scarred,
Somebodys broken heart
And a washed-out dream
They follow the pattern of
The wind, ya see
Cause they got no place to be
Thats why Im starting with me

Oh no, no no . . .
Im gonna make a change
Its gonna feel real good!
Come on!
Just lift yourself
You know
Youve got to stop it.
Ive got to make that change,
You got to not let yourself . . .
Brother . . .
You know-Ive got to get
That man, that man . . .

Youve got to
Youve got to move! come
On! come on!
You got to . . .
Stand up! stand up!
Stand up!
Stand up and lift
Yourself, now!
Hoo! hoo! hoo!
Gonna make that change . . .
Come on!
You know it!
You know it!
You know it!
You know . . .

Make that change!

P.S. To not to cause any confusion; I'm not an emotional guy in the classical sense. So I don't go running out of the house to help homeless children with tears all over my face when I listen to these songs, I just think they are successful and responsible pieces of art. They help me realize that we're not there yet and motivate me to plan my future accordingly, in a rational way, if I listen to these songs that is... which I haven't done since posting them here...

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]