Time to get Up to Date 

There is a topic which, I believe, needs to be discussed more extensively. In this time of presidential politics and passionate debates over issues such as gun violence and abortion, this topic gets overlooked.

A fair question would be, why, in a secular nation, such as the United States, this topic is not addressed by the media. Especially, in the year 2016, it seems to me, that such an everyday activity should be categorized differently than it, heretofore, has been. In this day and age, when communication halfway around the world can be completed in seconds, the aforementioned basic human activity is suppressed. Absurd. 

Especially ironic, is the fact that unconventional forms of this activity are being highly publicized – yet – the most conventional  form is treated as something virtually unmentionable. The media, it seems, prefer to discuss  unconventional forms, rather than discuss this very common activity. Yet, if it weren’t for this very logical, popular, conventional activity, there would never have been a human species, much less, an American society. 

It could be argued that the non-discussion of this activity, in a mature and open public forum, is a major cause of social dysfunction. Said assertion would be, that, if this very necessary cause of the human species were – rather than being treated as something which belongs in underground entertainment – handled in an open intellectual manner, more children would grow up in functional environments. Also, young females would be less to find themselves confronted by a task for which – quite frankly – they lack the necessary maturity.

The topic in question, of course, is heterosexual intercourse. It’s high time, it seems to me, that American society stopped treating this very natural and very necessary human ( or, should I say, mammalian ) function as something nasty. Perhaps, if the American media were to stop reporting about civil unions between members of the same sex, and began discussing heterosexual relationships, fewer teenagers (who are in no way equipped to raise children) would suddenly find themselves with that daunting responsibility ).

Income inequality? It might actually shrink. Child poverty? Ditto. While homosexuality may or may not be innate (far too little data exists to make a determination), heterosexual intercourse is a staple of nature. Yet, for the most part, the latter is considered, in the dominant (including that held by liberals ) American opinion, as pornographic. This state-of-affairs is not only absurd – it’s downright tragic.

Published in: on August 4, 2016 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Discussion of Consciousness – Part 2

Another issue with Dennett is his denial of the existence of qualia in the mind (see Consciousness Explained; pp 358-359). As John Searle, in his book, Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy In The Real World  (Purseus Books Group; 1998; p 42), points out, a conscious state has a certain way that it feels; therefore, there is a subjective quality to it.

Also, David J Chalmers (The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory; Oxford University Press; 1996) declares that there is a phenomenal concept of the conscious mind (something Dennett also denies). As Chalmers also points out, the quandary over the mind-body problem lies in the phenomenal concept, not in the psychological.

I differ with both Searle and Dennett in regard to their positivism. Both appear believe that what perceive through our optical nerve is the actual object. However, in his book, The Holographic Universe (Harper Collins; 1991), Michael Talbot describes instances in which scientists have theorized, based upon research, that our 3 dimensional perception may very well be an Illusion. Holographic images on film behave very much like the images in our brains.

© David W Sjolander 2015

Published in: on September 11, 2015 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Discussion of Consciousness – Part 1

In his book, Consciousness Explained; Little, Brown; 1991, Daniel C Dennett purports to refute established theories about the human mind. There are several problems with this claim. One, which Dr. John R Searle eloquently points out (The Mystery of Consciousness, by, John R Searle; NYREV; 1997; p. 100), is, that Dennett denies the existence of subjective interpretations by the mind, of objects and events which its owner observes.

Dennett asserts that the human brain essentially like a silicon-based electronic computer. This, I (who have extensive technical education and experience in Computer Science) can assure anyone is false. Even artificial intelligence (AI) is nothing more than a firmware version of software.

Thanks to a more intensive study of neuroscience in recent decades, the human brain is becoming better known. Even at time of the publishing of Dennett’s book, it was well-known that computers could not come close to the abilities of the human mind. Dennett’s hypothesis of a “virtual machine” (see Consciousness Explained; pp 210, 211) which, supposedly processes objective “memes,” based upon information retrieved by the retina (although, incredibly imaginative), is highly improbable.

In fact, I can (as a linguist) say, that, Searle, in his hypothetical “Chinese Room” (see The Mystery of Consciousness; pp 11, 12),” hits the proverbial nail on the head. The computer…in attempting to translate a statement from its internal 1’s and 0’s, into English text, for example…retrieves the english characters from a location in its memory.

By contrast, a human being can know a second language, fluently. For example, if a Swede wants to translate his or her thought from Swedish, into English, the Swede must be conversant in English. We know this, because, as a human being learns a new language, he or she comphends it long before being able to speak it. If, as Dennett seems to imply, the human mind operated in the manner of a computer, the Swede would simultaneously learn to speak and understand English.

Where I differ from both Searle and Dennett, is; I believe that mind and brain are separate, distinct concepts. As I mentioned above, Robert A Monroe, in his book, Journeys Out of the Body (Random House; 1971), tells of experiencing extraskeletal voyages of the spirit. This; along with many other testimonials by people having experienced the very same thing; would indicate, that, the human (possibly the animal) entity consists of more than just the material. While, we may not be certain of the exact makeup of it, there appears to be a non-material element to human consciousness.

This fact would, also, appear to refute Dennett’s hypothetical “multiple drafts” configuration of the brain’s publishing of processed input (see Consciousness Explained; pp 17, 111-143). The obvious question this model begs, is: If, parts of reality are published in several edited drafts, how does the mind exit the body? On the other hand, Searle’s assertion that perspective is published in one location of each the brain’s hemispheres ( see The Mystery of Consciousness; p 101), begs the same question. Both, Dennett and Searle, deny the Cartesian theory of the pineal gland being the central processor for the brain.

To be continued

© David W Sjolander 2015

Published in: on July 18, 2015 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thoughts on the Season

Well, Easter is almost here. This Holy Week…indeed…throughout Lent…one has reflected upon one’s faith. To some, Easter may be all about eggs and candy, new clothing, etc. However, just as Lent is about more than eating fish on Friday, Easter has a  much deeper meaning.

Jesus died so that we would be forgiven. Additionally, his resurrection marked the beginning of a new era. This era was supposed to be an age in which people served one another. However, driving down the road, one gets the sense that many people merely want to serve their own selfish interests.

Ironically, many of these same people will attend church on Easter Sunday, proclaiming to be Christians. Also, some will rudely force their way into church. This begs the question, where is the change?

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 5:13 pm  Comments (1)  

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success #TED : http://on.ted.com/rbKd

Published in: on January 2, 2014 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

On Philosophy and Emotion

Recently, upon reading an entry on another blog, I began to ponder one of the roles of philosophy. Plato did designate three categories of Philosophy – ethic, logic, and physic. It’s also true that the famous 19th Century philosopher, John Stuart Mill, defined logic as the art of reasoning. Mill, furthermore, mentions a major topic of philosophy – consciousness. It is true that consciousness is required for perception of truth. Of this, we form a conception of reality.

However, the assertion that some have made, of Psychology replacing Philosophy as a study of emotion can be disputed. G.W.F. Hegel asserted that Philosophy addresses ideas. Further, Hegel argued that freedom is a necessary part of human will (a philosophical concept). He described the human will as thought interpreting itself as reality. Desire is seen as being connected to consciousness. Likewise, consciousness has a great deal to do with perception.

Aesthetics is a major school of Philosophy. It is – in a nutshell – the study of human perception of beauty. Both Neuroscience and Philosophy assert that, when observing an object or objects which one finds attractive, a human being experiences mental stimulation. If such an object happens, for example, to be a member of the opposite sex, this stimulation could lead to a desire for familiarization with said person. Since love, which is an emotion, ( and, is a topic discussed extensively in Philosophy) is known to be connected to such stimulation, it would seem that Philosophy is essential to understanding human emotion.

Though it is true that psychologists have been known to employ the use of drawings (artwork) in the pursuit of detecting the desires of particular subjects, one can argue that this concept is invariably linked to Aesthetics. Hence, since Aesthetics is a field of Philosophy, a deduction can be made, that Philosophy and Psychology work in tandem, relating to the study of human emotion.

Further, Epistemology – the philosophical study of knowledge – addresses such mental concepts, as illusion, as well as, subjective perception and objective reality. The early 20th Century philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrestled with the question of the objective existence of matter. Additionally, the renowned 20th Century French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre discussed desire – describing it as a lack which needs to be fulfilled.

It does not appear that Psychology has fully addressed this question. Although Psychology has been known to address – to some degree – human perception, it seems to me. that Philosophy has gone further in staging challenging questions, regarding this subject. Hence, since human emotion can be said to be closely connected to perception, it would appear that Philosophy is, yet today, a very necessary science, when dealing with human emotion.

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm  Comments (2)  

Thoughts on Berkeley

Recently…in reading an essay by the renowned 18th Century philosopher, George Berkeley, I began to reflect on the concept existence. Berkeley – an idealist – argued that objects do not exist beyond our human perception.  As I interpret his assertion, if we don’t either sense or conceive of its presence in the universe, an object does not exist. Personally, I do not believe this to be true.

If his hypothesis were true, objects which were not yet known of 250 – 300 years ago, when Berkeley was alive, which have been discovered since (e.g., other solar systems and galaxies) could not possibly be real. The reason for this impossibility is that many of the aforementioned celestial groups date back long before George Berkeley and his contemporaries were even born. Thus, the philosopher got it wrong.

Another difference I have with George Berkeley is, that he purports, on the one hand, to disagree with scepticism, yet, simultaneously, appears to require sensory verification for the existence of an object. Though consistent with his idealism, I find this to be egocentric. The human mind has been found to deceive its owner from time to time. Therefore, it would seem, scepticism can be justified.

I will confess, that Berkeley’s writings are interesting. Also, given his era – centuries before satellites, atomic telescopes, and manned space travel – the philosopher probably makes as valid an attempt at understanding the universe, as could have been expected. Just as (albeit, involving a different area of philosophy) Jean Jacque Rousseau’s so-called, Positive Freedom hypothesis can be forgiven. Since Rousseau lived generations before the existence of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, perhaps his naivite is understandable. Just as the latter’s lack of conception of a government “protecting each associate” in a hypothetical “association” by uniting the associates, as possibly endangering the individual freedom of said citizens, could be attributed to a lack of common esperience of any government which had claimed such a mission, the former’s belief that his senses and understanding were proof that no other solar systems or galaxies existed, could be attributed to a lack of sophisticated scientific technology.

Published in: on May 3, 2012 at 4:45 am  Comments (2)  

On New Year’s Resolutions…

When I was younger, I had a tradition that I would practice at this time each year. Being quite self-critical, I would reflect upon the habits I desired to change. These habits involved my approach to schoolwork, my use of language, etc. In several Decembers, I remember, I would diligently construct a list of items in my life which I wanted to change. The target date for the commencement of these alterations was consistently the first day of January of the coming year.

On the evening of December 31st, I would eagerly await the hour at which “the ball” was scheduled to drop in Times Square, in New York City. Typically consuming popcorn, along with other refreshments, I would socialize with friends and family from approximately 8 p.m. (20.oo). Depending on the year, we would engage in intense rounds of various board games, or assemble in a fairly noisy eating establishment, engaging in lively conversation. At approximately 11:45 p.m. (23.45), all such activity would cease, and the attention of the entire group would converge upon activities being displayed on the screen of a television. As the clock ticked toward midnight, and the large sparkling crystal sphere on the television steadily descended in New York, a collective feeling of exhilaration would arise within us as we counted down the seconds. At the magic moment, we would toast eachother, and, share a “Happy New Year” wish.

As the years passed, I began making New Year’s resolutions primarily for fun – exchanging mine with those of friends and colleagues. Realizing that change comes gradually, and, that the expectation of abruptly altering habits formed and ingrained over several years was unrealistic, I simply chose one or more items that sounded good. Looking back, it now appears to me that I spent a considerable amount of time and effort, in my younger adult years, trying to impress others. Not only was this somewhat disingenuous, those whose approval I sought, often showed little or no appreciation.

One day, I simply stopped making these promises. I believe that this decision was a result of a combination of factors. At about that point in my life, I had begun to become much more confident in myself. The need for others’ approval had become less important to me. Those individuals then in my life, who most displayed a negative judgement of me as I was, began to fade into the background. On the items in my life that I genuinely desired to change, I began to initiate small alterations. As I sincerely embarked upon such adventures, I found that my life began to improve.

I still enjoy ringing in the new year with friends and loved ones. Watching the shiny orb in Times Square gradually descend still gives me a certain thrill. However, I now view the approach of each new chronological cycle of the Gregorian calendar from a far more realistic and pragmatic perspective. Any and all improvements in my life (and, I have made several in the last decade or so) have developed gradually over time, and, at various points on the calendar. As with abstaining from the enjoyment of certain foods and fun activities at certain times of year, I have found that, for me, new year’s resolutions are impractical.

Published in: on December 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm  Comments (1)  

An Unexplained Phenomenon

What is beauty? How do we recognize it? What is it that causes humans to become deeply enthralled with specific sculptures and paintings?  Studies have indicated that certain kinds of visual images can produce certain subconscious reactions in the human observer. For example, a painting of newly-ripened, fresh fruit can cause the viewer to become hungry. Conversely (though, conceptually similar), a drawing of people being tortured can produce empathetic twitches in legs and arms, by those peering at the picture.

Neuroscience claims that we assess aesthetic value through the use of the prefrontal cortex of our brain.  According to this hypothesis, the orbito-frontal cortex displays activity whether or not a visual experience is judged to be aesthetically pleasing. Further, this claim asserts, the prefrontal dorsalateral cortex only reacts to aesthetically pleasing visual experiences. Additionally, the brain’s emotional circuitry is said to become active during a pleasing experience. In fact, neuroscientific researchers have recently founded a new academic field, which they call, Neuroesthetics.

In response to this, one could say, “Alright. Those may be the physical results of aesthetic judgement… However, what is it, that causes such reactions?” Studies have concluded that individual human beings – despite the fact that their brains are of the same size and structure – often tend to differ on the aesthetic value of any given work of visual art. Surely, there must be a reason for these differences of perception?

According to a recent article in the New York Times Art and the Limits of Neuroscience,  By Alva Noe, Opinionator, December 4, 2011), neuroscience has virtually no solid evidence on which to support their assertion that human consciousness is solely physically based. As  the article’s author points out, although it is necssary for the brain to be healthy, if one is to function mentally, there is more to human conciousness than the neural threads of the corpus. The renowned 17th Century philosopher, Rene Descartes, believed that human consciousness resulted from a non-physical element. and, therefore, not physical, at all. Though Descartes said, Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore, I am), he, also, asserted that we must each possess an immaterial mind. Despite a seemingly popular belief to the contrary, it seems, that, centuries later, neuroscience knows little more than Descartes did.

The key question remaining, which, it would appear, the physical argument cannot explain, is subjective judgement. If all human consciousness is purely physical, how can two individuals observe the same event and, yet, perceive it totally differently? Though, to a certain degree, DNA might explain part of this phenomenon, it doesn’t appear to entirely satisfy the requirement. In his essay, Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, David J. Chalmers, of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, discusses the mystery surrounding the human ability to use past experience ( that which Immanuel Kant called, a posteriori) to explain new observations.

How is it that we are able to form a mental image when hearing a certain musical note or chord? How can one person prefer one genre (e.g., jazz) of music, while another person may prefer a different genre (e.g., rock) of music? How can two people differ on whether a painting or sculpture is aesthetically pleasing? Surely, if the cause solely lay in their DNA, two closely related humans (e.g., siblings) would have exactly the same perspective every time? Popular trends come and go. Either as a result of lack of ability, insecurity regarding their peers, or, sheer laziness, many people fail to think for themselves on such intellectual matters. From observation, one has come to the conclusion that, while a few may be sincere, many who call themselves “skeptics” are, in reality, merely lemmings (or, if your prefer, sheep), following a pseudo-intellectual cult.

Published in: on December 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm  Comments (3)  


Well…December hath arrived

Last night, we received our first serious snowfall of the season. As I arose this morning and peered out of the window, I was met with a wintry scene. Six-and-one-half inches of the fluffy, marshmallowlike stuff covered everything. Cars, trucks, trees, bushes, lawns, streets, driveways, sidewalks, houses, etc., were clothed in white. It seemed as though mother nature had painted a picture postcard outdoors.

Everyone, from age 5 to 17, got a day off from school. As I watched, children played merrily across the street. They made foot trails throughout a church parking lot. They worked diligently at erecting a snowman. One of the youngest – a five-year-old boy – tenaciously toiled, rolling a snowball that appeared to tower over him. In the back yard, a couple of squirrels – their black fur, delightfully contrasting the ground – proceeded to search for their buried treasure. By the rear entrance of the house, rabbit tracks were visible in the glistening blanket. From somewhere nearby, the sound of a snowblower faintly sounded.

Children who reside in places like southern California and Florida don’t know the joy and wonder of a snow day. I can’t help, but wonder…do those in Florida have “hurricane days?” Surely, those can’t be much fun. Likewise, “earthquake days” in California wouldn’t be nearly as invigorating as being able to throw snowballs, eat snowcones, and, make snow angels. I don’t mean to minimize the severity of natural disasters. However, adults, where I reside, often complain about winter weather.

Having relatives who have migrated southward, I am fully aware of the aesthetic value of a beautiful snow-covered winter morning. Images of delicious drinks – hot cocoa, hot cider with cinnamon, and, hot raison-and-almond-filled glögg – fill one’s mind. Fond recollections of past ski trips and sledding expeditions lift one’s spirits enormously. Though they would never admit it so many words, these emigrants from the north missed enjoying this early signal of winter’s approach.

Even clearing the snow from the driveway and the walkways seemed enjoyable. The cold fresh air filled my lungs, as I proceeded to make it possible to drive and stroll on the property. As the gleeful squeals of young children arrived from off in the distance, the bright sun illuminated my endeavor. Later – in the comfort of the warm house – I rested in a soft reclining easy chair, consumed a mugful of steaming-hot mocha cappuccino, topped by a dollop of whipped cream.

Mmmmm…December hath arrived

Published in: on December 1, 2011 at 5:23 am  Comments (1)