Saturday, 31 January 2015

Philosopher Profiles: Baudrillard

After my post on The Distorted Simulation of Reality I thought I would take a look at the philosophical teachings of the man who inspired my thoughts on the  advertisement campaign of John Lewis. Firstly, Baudrillard can be described as a dystopic postmodernist, a man who seemingly felt as though we had already lost to the current cultural implications of having disassociated ourselves from the real. In other words, Baudrillard believed that we had so far sepatated ourselves from true reality, that we were now dependent and obsessed with our separation from it - he expressed this in a number of ways.

Baudrillard was a cultural observer in many ways and his ideas of postmodern society are bleak, suggesting the real is irretrievable. The real is, essentially reality, and Baudrillard argued that postmodern societies had disengaged with what is real by it having been manipulated by media and the systems we now associate with. In the process of having lost the real we have replaced it with a hyperreality, something that continues to shape the way we see the world.

An example of hyperreality would be video games, television dramas, internet dating and artificial intelligence - any system that replaces or simulates reality. One of the problems with mass media, and living in a world full of systems and images that seek to represent reality is that we have become increasingly disengaged from what is real. The hegemonic system which has replaced reality seeks to rebut any attempt to reengage with the real, and one of the consequences of the system is that it enables us to perceive everything nihilistically, and encourages meaningless.

Let me explain, being a twenty-something year old I have been subject throughout my life to the systems Baudrillard talks about, but I am still old enough to remember the frustrations of dial-up internet! I grew up on video games, television and alcoholic-infused evenings throughout my teen years, as well as the expanding prominence of the internet. Exposure to video games, the internet and emotional melodramas has desensitised me to a number of different examples of what would have previously be seen as despicable and ghastly. Here are some examples:

Video games and films: Having played zombie games, GTA, Manhunt and seen a number of gory films like Saw, although disgusting, depraved and wrong, I have always met crime, death and horrific plots with indifference, being able to watch and play these games/films without feeling any real disgust or seeing any real significance in the acts they are simulating. Sixty years ago these video games and films would not have been sold/aired, and any films like The Exorcist or Psycho are not movies I find particularly scary or terrifying because society has moved to new levels in the horror and terror genres. In other words, I am more desensitised to violence, crime and death as a result of the systems I have engrossed myself in.

Consumerism: We have become disenfranchised from the true values of life, and these true values are being represented by products that we are corn-fed into thinking will bring us happiness. We have become engulfed by the worlds of currency and wealth, we now think about everything in terms of exchange and value, whether that be sustenance, sex or time - we have replaced farms and natural produce with large buildings filled with non-nutritious food and drinks, sex and communication are now things we can readily find on the internet in forms of social networking and porn - sex becoming an image of objectification and control rather than one of compassion and love. Time is, of course, given for the sake of earning money - 'how much is our time worth?' has become a cultural form of Capitalism.

Baudrillard believes that these elements are byproducts of the societies we now live in, but these simulations show an obsession with the real that preceded them, further distorting the real. Historical films are a perfect example, events such as the holocaust have been replaced to an extent by the images, melancholy music and sounds that are played through movie showings. This is a part of the system because we are constantly reliving events through systems and images/signs - showing that we have a connection to the past, which is even now being distorted by misrepresentations of those events.

As a result, Baudrillard believes that we are permanently melancholy, and we cannot break out of the cycle which the systems keep us in. The systems' representation of the real are hyperbolic, melodramas on television being an example of what we all aspire our lives to be like - dramatic and action-packed, however this is unrealised. Even reality shows convey misrepresentations of the reality they are supposed to be showing; shows such as The Only Way is Essex and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here all seek to distort reality in a way that it is now unrecognisable.

So that's my profile on Baudrillard (as well as me going off on a tangent about systems...). I hope you enjoyed this and found it informative. If you'd like to know more about Baudrillard I would recommend this book on Amazon, an introduction into some of Baudrillard's ideas on Simulacra and Simulation. Please comment below to let me know your thoughts, thanks. :) Feel free to share any of my posts as well!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Distorted Simulation of Reality - A Cultural Observance

Having read Baudrillard's ideas on Simulacra and Simulation I thought I would delve into the idea because it is certainly one that dominates the modern lives we lead. Rather than relay the works here I will attempting to provide my own perspective on the world in which we live, occasionally referring to Baudrillard's philosophical teachings along the way.

I thought I would start with advertisement. Switch on the TV and flick through a few adverts, what do you see? You don't see a black and white image of what the product is and what it does anymore, you see instead a series of images regarding the lives we lead. The John Lewis Christmas advert can be viewed by clicking here. If you were watching this advert for the first time, not knowing what John Lewis primarily sells you would probably come to the conclusion that John Lewis sells love at Christmas, or penguins.

What we see with the John Lewis Christmas advert are symbols within symbols and I will be using this video as my primary tool for exploring Western culture and Capitalism. Firstly it's important to address that John Lewis sells clothes, something that we all need but John Lewis in particular is an up-market high street chain selling rather expensive items - in my opinion on my average salary.

John Lewis is essentially a symbol for clothing so we already have the first representation of reality there, John Lewis is an image which we can easily associate with clothing. Fine. When you see John Lewis you automatically and subconsciously think of clothes, that is until you see this advert. The John Lewis brand image dissociates itself with clothes in this video, making a new representation of childhood, love and togetherness - all in time for Christmas!

The issue is that while John Lewis is creating new associations to do with concepts rather than products it is creating an image representation and tangible association with those concepts. For example, it is, on a subconscious level, easy to think that buying John Lewis products will automatically bring you happiness and love, as well as everything you want for Christmas. So let's break this down further.

The child in the advert is the primary subject, who is seemingly made out to have an imaginary friend - the penguin, which we find out later is his teddy bear. The child then observes that his imaginary friend feels lonely, so assumingly with the help of John Lewis he brings his imaginary friend another imaginary friend of the opposite sex.

As well as the John Lewis logo being a simulation of reality through its image, we also have the teddy bear being a simulation for the child's love. As the penguin is in fact a teddy bear we have to assume that the love and loneliness felt by this teddy bear is in fact a fabrication, or simulation of something deeper the child is feeling. Throughout the advert we see people communicating and being with one another, but throughout the whole advert the child is alone and there is no obvious acknowledgement that he is even there.

What we have is a complex representation of the child's life which he lives through his teddy bear/imaginary friend. What makes things more complicated is that John Lewis is seemingly advertising the penguin '#Monty the Penguin', which is odd seeing as they don't sell teddy bears or imaginary friends.

Through watching this advert the only conclusion I can make is that we have lost all concept of what is real, and have replaced this with a simulation, firstly of the John Lewis logo, and also of the penguin - the penguin being a misrepresentation of the child. We are replacing concepts with material possessions, and through this we truly lose a sense of worth, believing that the price of a John Lewis product will bring us all the things it is advertising.

We are manipulated by mass media because it is ubiquitous, there is no escaping advertisement or images representing products. We have no true sense of what brings us happiness and I am fully believing that this sort of thing has contributed to the increased depression rate as we are no longer able to dissociate ourselves from the procurement of material possessions in the hunt for happiness and togetherness.

Christmas is a good example of a corporatised festival which has no longer been about Jesus, Pagan tradition or even the coming together of family - or maybe the coming together of family being commercialised to the point where we need to bring eachother presents in order to see eachother.

The idea is that Capitalism has become cyclic and because there are so many representations within symbols withing symbols, within symbols (I hope you get the idea here!) we are no longer capable of establishing a connection to what is actually real. It is as though we cannot see beyond a material world which has imprisoned us into thinking that hard to find concepts, such as love, beauty and even justice, are all materially acquired, or materially dependent.

So that's it for now. I hope you've enjoyed reading this post and I look forward to any comments you might make. What are your thoughts on commercialisation? Do you agree that we are beginning to lose a sense of what is real? Comment below so we can discuss it.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Artificial Intelligence: What Do We Need To Fear?

Do we need to fear artificial intelligence becoming more intelligent than the creator - us? I read an article recently which looked into artificial superintelligence, and how, on establishing what intelligence is, would we be able to instill this into a computer or in an artificial way. Anyway, the article got me thinking on whether or not it would be possible for artificial intelligence to one day surpass our own intellect. In some ways the idea seems absurd but it is not that absurd when you think about it, we have already created machines in specific areas that outperform humans in pretty much every way. The only lacking division is a human capacity in terms of compassion and the ability to truly think.

The article comes to the conclusion that it is highly unlikely we will ever understand the make up of intelligence and, therefore we would be unable to implement it into machinery, even then, if we could work out what intelligence truly consisted of on a fundamental level it may be too convoluted for us to form algorithms complex enough to mimic it. However, the idea of this intrigues me; think about Cleverbot, a robot that was created to mimic human responses in order to fool humans into thinking they were actually talking to a human.

A test was conducted where people were asked to decide whether or not they were talking to a robot or a human based on the answers they received to questions they asked. The test was conducted as if speaking on an internet chatroom and human participants, as well as Cleverbot, partook in the experiment. Out of 334 votes being cast, 59.3% thought they were speaking to a human when talking to Cleverbot, while only 63.3% thought they were talking to a human when they were in fact talking to a human. As you can see, Cleverbot scored very highly on the test.

The reason I have used Cleverbot as an example is because it is programmed to mimic human beings through ongoing interaction with us. As Cleverbot speaks to more humans it essentially evolves the language it uses in order to sound more human and adjudge tone. My argument is that if a robot can learn to mimic a human being in the language it uses, it could necessarily evolve beyond those capabilities given the correct criteria in which to function in.

I don't mean that Cleverbot will now become a full-fledged human who is able to 'love', don't be silly, but if there was a specific algorithm which mimicked human beings on a very fundamental level, there is not reason, in my head, why it couldn't take off and begin to learn to enhance itself - especially if the intelligence consisted of sub-systems, as the article mentioned previously talks about.
The article I read, entitled 'The Creation of a Superintelligence and The End of Enquiry' talks about how intelligence is broken down into various subsystems, and it is possible to categorise these.

The sub-system idea would allow a combination of these to be created, in which an outcome could be derived from the various inputs, essentially creating an intelligence system that makes decisions based on various inputs. If we think about it, this is very much how a human being operates, the five senses can be regarded as differing inputs in this situation. Obviously it is much more complex than this, but in principle we should be able to create something that mimics the process of decision making among other things.

Professor Murray Shanahan, professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College is quoted in this article regarding artificial intelligence, and it is very clear that he believes the development of AI is very much going towards a 'human-level' understanding, although not within the next 20 years. However, the issue is that moral code and constraints are not being put in place at this early stage which would result in AI essentially running amok, if we were not to think about the implications at an early stage it could cause complications in the future.

The article also brings to light that it is unclear whether or not we should try to mimic human nature or start from scratch. This brings forward ideas of how we perceive intelligence rather than how it is formed on a natural level, meaning we could essentially create something without having to break down our own biological capacity for intelligence. Stephen Hawking among others have warned about the potential implications of AI enhancement, some even citing human extinction as a possible outcome.

So what do you think? Can you imagine an AI revolution taking down the puny human beings we all are? Or is it inconceivable to create an AI that is capable of surpassing ourselves? And if it was to happen would we be exterminated, ignored or even just patronised by this superior intelligence? Please share this post, comment below or whatever, hope you enjoyed the read :)

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Top 10 Philosophical Quotes

Dedicated to the philisophical teachings uttered in short sentences, musings that will change your outlook on life in the blink of an eye and quips to equip you to face the hardships of life, this list will open your eyes to some of the great brains to have graced this Earth. I will be focusing on short quotes rather than longer ones - the snappier the better for those looking for that quick injection of knowledge and wisdom.

10. Heraclitus - "One cannot step twice in the same river."

Meaning that everything is in a constant flow of change - from each passing moment the water of that river passes through before being replaced with more water, the river has changed. This definition reaffirms Heraclitus when he argues that the only thing we can call permanent is change.

9. Nietzsche - "God is dead!"

Not in the literal sense, but in an ideological one. Nietzsche's works display concepts of nihilism, in which he warns us that the growing detachment from religion in the western world could lead to chaos. Often debated, but the true meaning is thought to be foreboding the movement away from the morals expounded in religious verse.

8. Einstein - "The real sign of intelligence isn't knowledge, it's imagination."

Einstein questioned the scientific conventions at the time and moved away from the acceptance of said conventions. This philosophy is perhaps the ethos behind how Einstein was able to imagine new concepts which changed the formerly accepted notions of science and the way we perceive the world. Want to know what Einstein thought about God? Click here!

7. Socrates - "I only know one thing, and that is I know nothing."

Perhaps tying in well with Einstein's own ideas - no matter how much we learn we will be eternally in the depths of what we don't know. There is too much in this universe which we will always struggle to explain, but Socrates' words are what many people look to to inspire questions about the world we live in.

6. Descartes - "I think, therefore I am."

Descartes' rational behind his own existence was that he thought, therefore he was. The age-old concept of whether or not you exist is something that plagued Descartes' mind, but this quote was his only way of putting into words that he knew he must exist, even if that didn't necessarily mean other people did...

5. Kant - "Morality is not the doctrine of how we make ourselves happy, but how we make ourselves worthy of happiness."

A lot of his philosophy was based around morality, and indeed Kant changed western philosophy and is probably one of the most influential philosophers to have ever lived. On questioning whether or not God exists, Kant came to the conclusion that morality was proof of God's existence.

4. Aristotle - "Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies."

Don't hate me, it's valentines day soon! Besides, isn't love one of the biggest concepts we all grapple with from time to time? A classic from Aristotle nonetheless.

3. Rousseau - "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains."

Social class, wealth, and poverty are all things that trap us, but none of these are of a natural creation, they are consequences of everything man-made. Rousseau isn't known to be the greatest but he did write a good line! This one working in some capacity to inspire the French Revolution.

2. Gandhi - "Live simply so that others may simply live."

With only 1% of the world's population owning almost half of the entire world's wealth, perhaps this idiom has never rang so true throughout the world. Living simply would be to not exhaust the world's resources, and passing on luxuries would improve the lives of those less fortunate - an ideal thought amid the less than ideal surroundings.

1. Socrates - "The unexamined life is not worth living."

The only person to make it twice on the list, although others could have easily shoehorned themselves on here somehow. Without examining life would any of the previous nine quotes ever have been uttered?

So there you have it, a list of bite-sized philosophical teachings to keep you ticking over on the philosophy front. Please have a share, and if you think I've missed any off, let me know below!

Einstein On God: Does God Exist?

Not a philosopher but a very interesting man who did not conform to ideas, and of course was an extremely open minded person - this being the basis of his discoveries and detachment from scientific conventions at the time. Einstein's scientific ideas are perhaps a testament to his creativity and ground-breaking principles, and this blog post will be used to analyse Einstein's quotes about God and his ideas surrounding the unified field theory which I feel may be helpful when talking about this topic. Differing from previous posts about Kant's ideas on morality and Aristotle's motifs surrounding the Unmoved Mover, this post will be centred around Einstein's quotes.

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists," said Einstein when addressing the question of whether or not he believed in God. He goes onto say that he does not believe in a personal God, far from it and, similar to Kant, I think it would be fair to say that the word 'God' represents something that does not have a name, a type of force rather than something tangible or ominous. This is not to say Einstein was an atheist, he indeed came out and said he was "annoyed" at the use of his words in defending the argument that God did not exist - it would perhaps be more apt to consider Einstein as agnostic.

So why did Einstein not believe in a personal God? The thoughts of Einstein on God were numerous, and there are many reasons why Einstein did not believe in a personal God, however I like the idea that scientific research is based on the premise that everything lives and functions within the laws of nature, this meaning that the idea of prayers influencing events or outcomes doesn't really work. Einstein was primarily a man of science but was influenced as a child by the Bible and Jewish teaching, he even went as far to believe that Jesus irrefutably existed. He said that "no one can read the Gospels without feeling the presence of Jesus," and that myth could not contain such life.

With this in mind, Einstein respected the historic presence of theology and religious figures, but he believed that the future of human thinking must fundamentally change if the race was to survive. He believed that the rigours of science could not be handled by any of the current religions, and the only one that could perhaps take on the pragmatic research into scientific principles was Buddhism, although to say Einstein was a Buddhist would be very incorrect - Einstein did, however, believe in the harmony and connection of all living entities and universal matter.

Einstein spent the last 30 years of his life searching for a unified field theory, one that would combine general relativity and quantum mechanics. Unfortunately Einstein's attempts were largely fruitless but taking into account the cosmic religious feelings Einstein would get from contemplating the universe, his hunt for a unified theory, in my opinion, was Einstein delving into his own personal beliefs, searching for something that would justify his feelings towards thinking there were some underlying force within the universe - a creator that would dispel ideas of there being a God-inclined beginning.

In conclusion, Einstein did not believe in God, in particular a personal God, but he did feel strongly that we were but schoolboys in trying to increase our knowledge of the universe. He believed that we would never know why the universe came into being, but the concept of a God, an influence would perhaps be a better word, was not one he would dispel. Einstein's search for a unified field made more sense than anything else in his belief that there was an underlying and fundamental principle or force connecting us all, and this would have obviously had a role to play in the forming of the universe as we know it - something that similarly parallels Aristotle's ideas.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and I hope you will also have reason for further reading on Einstein's incredible wisdom. Please share this post where you can as it is the only way I can get more coverage, and I also welcome your comments on this topic, so please, leave a comment below. :)

Friday, 23 January 2015

Kant On God: Does God Exist?

Another one in the philosophers on God series, if you missed the last one then click here for Aristotle's intriguing take on God.

Kant, to put it shortly, rationalised that God must exist, he put this rationality down to how morality effects the average human being, and used this idea to explain how without justice for one's actions in life, there must exist an afterlife of some sort where justice is redeemed. This is a surprisingly simple concept but Kant came up with the idea very uniquely and this post will try to analyse the flaws and benefits of this way of thinking.

Firstly, it is perhaps short-sighted to say that Kant believed God to exist, as his moral argument is more of a reason to believe that an afterlife exists, but more importantly, an afterlife that is based on justice of what decisions you have made in your Earthly form. So where I have said previously that the rationality of Kant is to say that God must exist, this in fact refers to God as a judgement or dependable afterlife.

The basis of the Kant on God argument resides within morality, the argument being that we make moral decisions because it is rational to do so, and the only way for those decisions to be rational is if they lead to ultimate consequences and implications.If we look more specifically at giving to charity as an example we see that, on a personal level, we feel as though we ought to give to charity. If we ought to do something then that is the perfect reason within itself to do something, such as giving to charity, this making moral decisions rational decisions. Furthermore, when confronted with a decision to make, the moral reason for making that decision will always be the more important of a basis on which to make that decision, therefore moral decisions are completely rational.

Moving on from this, it is possible to surmise that when having to choose between a morally correct outcome and a morally bereft outcome which benefits us more, we will still, in most cases choose what is morally correct. If there were no consequences for choosing the immoral path, which benefits us more, then we would rationally pick the immoral choice ahead of the moral decision - this being the fundamental principle behind Kantian logic.

It is plain to see that justice for making moral decisions does not lie in this lifetime; bad people do well and good people will sometimes do badly, therefore the logical and most rational conclusion is that justice is done after we die, by God or in another life. Kant used this argument to suggest that the most logical religion is the Christian ideology of being judged by God; placed in hell or in heaven. The whole idea is that we have a reason to do good things and we naturally move towards them, in other words we know the difference between right or wrong. However, because there are no obvious consequences in this life, therefore these must be atoned by something else after our time.

The problem with the Kant on God argument is that it does not address social implications. I think it is fair to say that we make a lot of our decisions based on what is socially acceptable, and it is also fair to say that what is socially acceptable has changed dramatically over the years, for example gay marriage, sex out of wedlock and divorce are all common themes within our current cultural narrative in the Western world, however this does not mean that those decisions are morally wrong - far from it.

This means that what is right or wrong changes based on what is correct within present society, and is not down to a fundamental or ultimate moral compass that exists ubiquitously throughout the world, therefore the idea of judgement is not one that would really make sense, unless the Bible were correct. If it were then the reckoning is coming! - but hasn't yet...

The idea also fails to address bad decisions that do have consequences within this life, for example, someone who serves jail time for murdering someone, in our lifetime, pays for their sins, so what effect would that have on any ultimate judgement? The concept Kant has put forwards is complex in many ways but it is impossible to address all of these points from the human perspective in my opinion. If you'd like to know more about Kant then here's a great website for you to read up on him - Kant Philosophy

So what do you think about this theory? Do you think Kant makes sense here? Have I overlooked something? Let's talk about it, I would love to discuss this topic because I'm a massive fan of Kant, so let's have it out! :) Comment below.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Look Back on Last Week - Racial Radicalization, Who's to Blame?

Upon reading about Mr. Pickles' letter to Muslim leaders and on hearing how Isis has threatened to kill two of Japan's citizens, I thought it would be apt to revisit last week's discussion on the Charlie Hebdo shootings by extrapolating that discussion into a new post about the increasing pressure on the Muslim community.

To start with, let's address Mr. Pickles, a man who has taken it upon himself to address the Islamic community on behalf of Britain, asking them to do more to help in preventing radicalization. The problem I have here is that Mr. Pickles' patronizing letter has been addressed to the Muslim community and leaders, whom he implies has had a direct responsibility in allowing hate-preachers access to large audiences, some of these people having been manipulated into becoming radicalized, and the issue is that Pickles has pointed the finger at Islam as though it is beneath Britain.

I'm not sure, but did Pickles write a letter to Christian leaders after the seemingly endless stories surrounding child abuse among Christian vicars and preachers? I don't remember hearing about one. The issue is that Muslim communities are being vilified because those committing the atrocities claim to be doing so in the name of Islam. Of course if you ask the average Muslim they repudiate the actions of these people, and refuse to accept that this is anything to do with the Muslim faith, because it quite simply isn't.

Mr. Pickles' letter, right or wrong, which it was most certainly wrong, was irresponsible, it has created a clear divide and has pretty much blamed the Muslim community for allowing this to happen, telling the community politely to sort out its act. What does this do? Incite the growing prejudices towards anyone who is different within our country? Yes, but not only this, it gives rise to people who are willing to voice their views about immigration and, in particular, Muslim presence within Britain.

The letter seems to distance Britain from the recent atrocities by saying how Muslim preachers can encourage Muslims in telling them how Islam can become a part of British identity. It is Britain's responsibility to encourage a diverse range of religious views in its effort to support freedom of speech, but the letter seems to imply that it is important for Muslim beliefs to be inherently British in order for the religion to work. I'm not defending the atrocities, far from it, but by saying what he has said he has managed to create a rift where it is seemingly now okay to separate Muslim heritage from Britain's culture, rather than encouraging an amalgamation of the two.

The problem of religious radicalization is something that the whole country has to deal with, any form of terrorism is, in my opinion, an innate dissatisfaction with the society as it currently is. Society shouldn't change for the minority but, in general, there has been an ever-growing detachment and lack of belief in the current political and economical system. Terrorism isn't purely down to the system we live in but there does seem to be a lack of compassion and I think that economical gain can sometimes distort the morals behind wars and invasions, and this in turn has an effect on normal people who aren't involved - encouraging prejudice and angst towards a set group of people.

I think the next year will be very telling on the implications of the vilification of Muslim people, and I fear that prejudice will grow into discrimination and discrimination may grow into something far worse. If you'd like to offer your input into what is a very heavily opinionated topic, please comment below and I'll get back to you on your thoughts. Thanks for reading, it really is appreciated.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Top 5 Philosophical Thought Experiments That Will Blow Your Mind

As part of the Top 5 List series I thought I would look into philosophical questions that are really difficult to answer. Most of these have been used somewhere before but I've tried to make up one of my own to cut the mustard, let me know what you think!

Alone in a Room Conundrum

Having been unconscious after a blow on the head, you wake up being unable to remember anything. You are in a large room that contains 100 years worth of nonperishable food and running water, most likely outlasting you, should you decide to stay in the room. Initially, there is one more person in the room, they look panicked, worried that something is happening outside the room. They turn around and notice you as you raise your head, waking up from what seems to have been an ever-lasting coma, before which, you remember nothing. The person looks vaguely familiar but you don't know who he/she is. They run over to you and make sure you're ok but they're sweating profusely. They hand you a gun and tell you not to leave the room under any circumstances whatsoever until they return. 

They also give you a key to lock the door after they go, but once again they make it clear they will be back as soon as possible with more people, and tell you not to leave the room. You have no recollection of what life was before your coma and remember absolutely nothing of what it's like to be human within current society. The person never returns. Do you leave the room even after they've given you specific instructions not to? You can survive in the room if you want to, and the person's agitated state has left you extremely scared.

The Kill One to Save Many Debate

Many will have heard this one, but if you find it easy to answer I'll add in a little twister-mister to get you thinking.

You are placed next to a train track where two sets of track veer off away from one another. Next to you is a set of instructions which clearly detail that the switch next to you causes the train to travel down either of the two tracks. Strapped to one of the two sides are five hikers, down the other is one hiker. The train, on its current path, is heading towards the five people and will indefinitely kill them. Would you change the track alignment so that only the one hiker would die, while the other five are spared? A difficult one but an interesting virtual study was carried out which you can read up on here if you want to find out what the majority taking part decided to do. 

If you find this one easy to answer, then imagine the one person on one of the two sides of the track was your best friend. Would you sacrifice your best friend to save five others? And oh yeah, the train, as it currently stands, is heading towards the five hikers so you have to physically switch it to your best friend, knowing they will die when you do so.

Can you Prove Anything is Real?

So far we've had questions that come down to morals and personal disposition, but let's move onto some real paradoxes that haven't quite been answered yet.

The 'brain in a vat' paradox is something that even today leaves philosophers debating over the potential implications of the concept. Imagine a mad scientist of some sort has managed to cut you open and steal your brain, the brain being placed in Futurama-like fluid that sustains life. To your brain, the scientist hooks up a couple of electrodes which are then connected to a computer. Seeing as all of the information you take in about the world is filtered through the brain, this computer would be able to simulate your everyday experiences. With this in mind, is it conceivable that everything you're seeing is in fact not real, and could possibly all be generated by a computer? Could you prove that what you are experiencing right now IS real?

Further to this I thought I'd add a little question...if you were given a choice to use a computer simulator to simulate your wildest dreams for the rest of your life, would you take it? And if you did, would you truly be able to say you had done the things you were experiencing in the simulator? Bear in mind the simulator is so high-tech that the differences between real life and the simulation are unrecognisable. If yes, should you be punished for killing someone in the visual representation?

Achilles and the Tortoise

Going with the ancient Greek theme with this one! Imagine you could place your life savings on either a tortoise or the legendary Achilles to win a race. Obviously, unless you love self-deprecation, you would bet on Achilles to win, and if you were to give the tortoise a slight head start, you would probably still bet on Achilles.

However, if you were to give the tortoise a head start before beginning the race, Achilles would first have to make up the distance to where the tortoise started, but during this time the tortoise would have already moved, meaning Achilles would have to make up the distance to where the tortoise had got to, while he was making it to the first point. Logically, this would go on forever because no matter how far the distance to where the tortoise stands, the tortoise would have already moved while Achilles was trying to catch up. The reason is because any finite distance can be divided an infinite number of times, so no matter what Achilles does he will never be able to overtake the tortoise. Confused? Take a look at this Youtube clip for a visual understanding of what's going on, gorgeously narrated by David Mitchell

Troublesome Twins

A complicated one but perhaps we have the cure to wrinkles here. We'll call our identical twins Rod and Tod, one is a couch potato while the other one is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, choosing to travel in a spaceship through space at speeds which are close to the speed of light (crazy, I know!). Anyway, Tod travels for two years on the spaceship before returning to Earth, however to his shock his identical twin looks entirely different to himself, the main difference being that Rod has aged by about thirty years...has he arrived in a parallel universe somewhere far away? No, not at all.

Einstein's theory of special relativity explains that time does not exist in the singular, and can be experienced differently depending on the speed from which you observe the speed of light. This is the logical conclusion if you follow Einstein's theories, but is it true, does this really work? All studies so far have suggested that this is the case; particles placed in a particle accelerator and accelerated to speeds close to the speed of light age slower, their inner clocks don't run as fast - which is a strange concept but one we'll have to take on merit.

So there you have it! Five philosophical issues and thought experiments which have boggled the minds of many. If you enjoyed this post please let me know below, and if you feel I should have included any I've missed out, why not leave a comment saying why? Until next time.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Philosopher Profiles - Aristotle

My recent post about Aristotle's views on God, which can be found by clicking here, proved to be pretty popular with readers, so continuing along the same strand of thought, I've decided to start a new series, starting with the famed Greek philosopher Aristotle. The series will be called Philosopher Profiles and will take a detailed look into some of the ideas and motivations behind the makings of these great philosophers.

So, a bit about that Aristotle philosopher. Many see him as one of the greatest of all philosophers, let alone one of the defining thinkers of the ancient Greek period. He studied under Plato whom many of you will be well acquainted with, who in turn studied under Socrates, another one of Greek's great philosophers. However, Aristotle was a man of logic, an idea which we'll see in a number of his concepts, and because of this he was inherently different from the likes of Plato, someone who perhaps wasn't as empirically-minded as the father of all logic. In particular, Aristotle was largely known for his contributions to logic, metaphysics, mathematics, all forms of science, politics, ethics and the arts; not only this but Aristotle's contributions to many of these subjects actually changed the way people thought at the time.

Of course Aristotle was influential during his time, but many of his ideas have survived up until modern day, ideas such as euidaimonia define the way human beings think in the modern world. Euidaimonia is the idea of flourishing, fulfilling one's potential; The Greek philosopher Aristotle, believed that each specie has its own nature, and a perfect life is fulfilling that nature. Seems simple enough, but what does that mean exactly? Well, Aristotle believed human beings to be political animals, and our natural drives were for society/community, happiness and knowledge. He believed that it was the pursuing of these principles that allowed human beings to reach their full potential, and the rational mind was the intrinsic distinction in which we tried to improve ourselves, pushing towards an identifiable human development.

Where do we find examples of self improvement within society? Well, overtime it has been common for human beings to seek fulfillment from a spiritual point of view, many people point towards different religions, all of which expound ideas of self-discipline with the prospect of getting into heaven; not murdering and loving thy neighbour are both principles that contribute to a decent and working society. Whether or not you believe in God is irrelevant, the motifs set down in the bible, man-made or divinely inclined, produce feelings of compassion and love, which I think we can all agree help in achieving happiness or a sense of companionship among people.

Away from religion we find science, Aristotle was a pragmatic man and differed from Plato in that respect. Plato believed that philosophy was purely for contemplation but Aristotle rejected this concept by saying we live in a physical world, and knowledge should come from rigorous testing and understanding our place within the world - Plato thought that understanding came from beyond the material world and was found in spiritualism. Philosophical teaching however, was very much a narrative of contesting ideas and, more often than not, speeches were given to try and persuade the public to think a certain way.

Does any of this sound familiar? Maybe not, David Cameron was never very good at convincing me of anything! Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, a concept which was coined by Aristotle when he lay down a number of techniques on the arts of debate and argument. Rhetoric is still in use today and I actually wrote an essay whilst at uni on how rhetoric had been used in the world of modern politics. Winston Churchill and Bill Clinton are both examples of men who used rhetoric in different ways, Clinton in how he made it seem as though he was reigniting J.F.K's golden boy reign 30 years after his assassination, and Churchill in how he managed to motivate a nation, and made it plausible to convey the loss of life as a small price to pay for freedom. The ideas of rhetoric are designed to bring people together to form one single idea, an idea which you have planted in their heads!

Aristotle's logic is embedded in the ideas of rhetoric, syllogisms in particular, or deductions as we can call them, are the process of taking two points to form a third point - or, creating a valid argument. This is a loose representation of what Aristotle's logic is, and syllogisms are just one example of derivations from the ideas themselves, however this is just a profile and if you would like to read about these ideas more in depth, I will gradually get to each of them.

I hope I have given you an idea of what Aristotle was all about but to contain his ideas in a single blog post would be unfathomable. Over the coming weeks I will be looking at a number of Aristotle's ideas but if you would like to request any specific analyses, then please do so below. Bear in mind this was just a taster of things to come, I hope you enjoyed.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

What Philosphers Have To Say About God - Aristotle

Philosophy tackles the big questions and there's no bigger discussion to be had than whether or not God exists. This is a tough question and many philosophers, and perhaps everyone on the planet, has pondered over whether or not there's a big man hiding about in the clouds and looking down on us. Furthermore, questions regarding omniscience, nature, motives and power all branch from the single question of whether or not God exists, but I doubt we'll be able to provide that question with an answer in this blog post - there's no harm in seeing what some of the great philosophers have to say on the subject though!

Let's kick off with the father of all philosophical teachings, Aristotle. Aristotle had an idea about God, upon looking at the world he realised that everything was transient. What this means is that everything around us, including ourselves, is constantly changing and is impermanent, from the stars and planets to the hairs on our head, everything is in a constant state of flux. However, all change is eternal, there is no evident beginning or end as time is infinite, this means that there can never have been a first change, because the first cause of change must have been set off by a chain reaction itself.

Okay, so this is starting to get a little complex, let's break it down. Imagine an infinite line of dominoes, no end and no beginning. The dominoes represent life and as they fall they cause the one in front to fall also, creating a chain reaction that allows the continuous and eternal flow of falling dominoes. However, the dominoes need to have been pushed to fall in the first place. The problem is that whatever was to push the dominoes would have had to have had a reason to push the first domino, meaning that the cause would have had to have been caused in the first place. Aristotle believed that this was not possible, that life was not an eternal chain reaction of events, and there must therefore be something he called a 'Prime Mover'.

As there is not a constant chain of cause and effect, Aristotle surmised that everything is being acted upon in order for it to be constantly changing, but without changing itself. The only way that this was possible was there to be a Prime Mover, something that was not made of matter, as matter can be acted upon, and something that was already all it could be, thus having no potential to change. The Prime Mover is something that causes all change/movement. The Prime Mover must have been the first and eternal substance that exists perennially in order for it to be the cause of all change, but at the same time it cannot have acted upon anything, which means the Prime Mover causes change by attracting everything to itself.

Think about a bowl of milk, confined in a permeable glass box which allows cats to smell the liquid. The bowl of milk does not change, but cats can see it and are drawn towards it, the bowl having caused the cats to want to drink it. The Prime Mover is like a bowl of milk, although it's not made of matter, so the reason behind its attraction is a desire to imitate the Prime Mover, causing everything to move or change. Aristotle called the Prime Mover, God.

So what does this mean exactly? Did God create human beings in order to want to imitate him? No, not exactly. In order for God to exist eternally without changing, God cannot know anything but itself, therefore it would have to be perfectly unaware of all change, because this would cause God to change. Therefore, God has no will and is not to be confused with any religious deity, 'God' is just a word to describe the indescribable, but at the same time, Aristotle argued that God had to exist as a motivator for existence, causing things to change and exist materially.

This doesn't answer any questions, but it does give us a different perception of God. My take on Aristotle's theory is that God is a force, not a being or anything material, Aristotle thought that God had to exist as a force of attraction, otherwise there would be no cause of change or existence. God can be very much likened to gravity, attracting things to large masses but without ever changing as gravity is a constant unalterable force. In other words, God is a life force, something that unifies everything without actually acting upon anything. If you want to read up on Aristotle's ideas then there's a good book on Amazon or you can have a read on this website to get a more rounded view of everything we've discussed here - a good source for general philosophical teachings.

If you've enjoyed this post let me know below (I've also got a post about what Kant's thoughts on God were). Perhaps you feel I've misinterpreted some of these ideas, or maybe you agree, whatever your thoughts, pop them below for all to see. Until next time. Ciao!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A Look Back On The Week - The Charlie Hebdo Shootings

Usually I'll try do this kind of post on Sunday or Friday but this seems like a good place to start my new blog - a look back on a recent event, questioning it from an analytical viewpoint, because what's the use in philosophical teachings if we can't apply them to everyday life and what happened last week. Today's post will focus on the Paris attacks that have cast a gloomy shadow over France. I've looked over a number of news articles referring to 'Muslim terror' and largely blaming the Muslim community for the tragic deaths of Charlie Hebdo employees, but this has led me to question whether or not this vilification is justified, and if it is indeed a fair assumption of the sole cause for the Paris shootings. I'm not convinced in all honesty, and this is why...

Firstly, it is important to make a distinction between the Muslim community in general and the people who committed the atrocities that have been so well documented by the world's media. Islam, along with Christianity, dominates the global spectrum of religious beliefs, whereas terrorist attacks are limited to very few occurrences around the world - relatively of course. Hypothetically, if you were to stop a Muslim in the street and ask them if they agreed with what happened in Paris, they would obviously tell you they didn't (if they do, Muslim or not, you should definitely report them!), and if you were to ask them whether or not their religion stipulates any propensity towards terrorism, they would certainly say no also.

Terrorists, freedom fighters and kamikazi specialists - whatever you want to call them - claim to be fighting for Islam and protecting their religion. Every religion, fundamentally, is based on compassion and love towards God and other human beings, I'm not religious personally but it's clear to see that Islam is not to blame for the Paris shootings which have occurred. In fact, I believe it to be dangerous to single out Muslim people, I think it creates fear and a misunderstanding of people around us, and this is what breeds prejudice and mistrust among human beings. David Cameron saying that Muslims must do more to stop terrorism is irresponsible and disengages western culture as one of the causes of terrorism, which it is and has been for many years. What I mean to say is that what happened last week, the Paris shootings and the prevention of further problems, is the responsibility of everyone, not just one religion or community.

I feel that all of the references to Islam in western media create a stereotypical impression which encompasses a whole faith, making the word 'Islam' synonymous with terrorism and terrorist organisations. A quick search on Google on the word 'Islam' brings up stories of how hate-preachers back the shootings, how Germany's anti-Islam rally gathers pace, whereas what the rest of the preachers are saying doesn't even make the top ten search results. It's deeply worrying that the word 'Islam' is becoming inherently linked with terrorist plots and Al-Qaeda, when the teachings of Islam encourage compassion towards all humans, and not just those who follow Allah.

Moving onto other terrorist attacks and how we can view all of this in a more enveloping way. First I would like you to think about how the western world and France has reacted to the Paris shootings - defiantly and angrily. Yes, we have all mourned for those who have lost their lives, and it would be unsurprising, all considered, to find more and more people feeling angry towards Islam, especially when you take into account the anti-Islam narrative that we are constantly being subject to in the media. So what's the flip side? Twelve people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and although every life is important and should never be taken in such a way, in comparison the number of innocent people who have died in the US bombings on Syria recently are probably much higher, although the lack of information on who is actually being killed is limited.

Imagine a family member, or your whole family, were killed in a bomb attack from an unspecified country or organisation, the natural reaction would be to want revenge or retribution, and no one would blame you for wanting that. Now take yourself back to 2003, the invasion of Iraq - largely considered to be a war for oil field control. Is it out of the question to assume that civilians of Iraq were angry? Innocent people slaughtered for seemingly no real reason at all, other than that of financial gain, caused a hate towards the west, people wanted revenge and retribution. Is it possible to link this sort of intrusion to the upcoming rise of terrorist organisations? Unfortunately there are people in the world who are willing to exploit the extreme feelings people are subject to after tragic events occur, using those events to brain wash people into thinking they should retaliate.

Whether or not previous wars have had any bearing on the rise of Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organisations is unclear, and it may never be a question that we are able to answer. However, the unification of the human race through compassion is something we should all be striving for. That is the only way we will be able to negate the problems of terrorism, and the vilification of Islam or military attacks will not bring about any sort of harmony within the world, violence begets violence after all. It is worrying how the media plays on stereotypes and contributes to the blame game, and for any youngster who reads the papers or watches the news it would be terrible for them to gain a prejudiced understanding of the world because of misrepresentation and subliminal misguiding. So I leave you with this, a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, 'If we are to teach real peace in this world, and we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.'

Such a loaded topic can't be covered in one blog post but if you have any comments or any thoughts which I may have overlooked in what I've written, feel free to document them below in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Aim of this Blog

Perhaps one of the harder things surrounding philosophy is not the philosophical teachings themselves, but rather the interpretations of them. One of the things I will be attempting to do through the medium of this blog will be to aid your understanding (as well as my own!) of the various philosophical outlooks and ideals presented to us by some of the great philosophers. From Nietzsche to Derrida, I will be trying to explore some of the better known and lesser known theories these philosophers have put forward, as well as trying to add my own thoughts into the mix. It won't be easy and I'm sure this journey will be as enlightening for me as it is for my prospective readers - if you're reading this then that's you! - but I ask for your patience and understanding as I seek out dusty books from the equally dusty library at my disposal, while I try to gather enough material for each post.

'So,' you're asking, 'what entitles you to take on the philosophical musings of Nietzsche, while giving an adept assessment of Foucault's theories on social control?' The answer to this pretentious-sounding question isn't an answer at all, the fact is I don't know why I want to do this and I'm probably not qualified to do so, but I've always sought an understanding of the world as it appears and how it doesn't appear, like most people, and hopefully I'll be able to learn something from doing this. However, the blog will be done in segments on different days, this is because philosophy is heavy stuff, most of it anyway, so I will also be adding some of my own theories on occasion to lighten the mood, as well as other more topical insights into current affairs.

A bit about me then (perhaps this will shed some light on why I'm approaching the big bad world of philosophy!) - I'm an English & Creative Writing graduate, I've had glimpses into a number of theories and written on a few, as well as including snippets in essays I've previously done. Philosophy truly fascinates me and I like to think of myself as a deep thinker. I plan on writing a novel one day, whether or not it will be successful is another matter but hey-ho! The novel won't be linked to philosophy directly and will be a work of fiction as opposed to a collection of my own thoughts, but, like anything written, it will contain ideas and motifs which you may find familiar after reading some of the future posts on this blog!

I will try to post as often as I can, I really want to get the ball rolling but, like an unbreakable boulder in my way, I work full time, so bear with me on this. I have to brush up on my philosophical readings and this may also take time as I'm reading a great book at the moment by Martin Amis - Money, and as a result some of the first posts may be literary-themed or more of my own musings as opposed to some of the better thinkers (putting it mildly). I would also like to take this opportunity to say two things; one, if you would like me to write about anything in particular put a comment below or on any other future posts I might write, and two, if you have a blog of your own and would like to contribute to mine, then send me a message and we might be able to come to some sort of arrangement...that's not meant to sound sexual but I'm sure there's some sort of  Freudian theory that says everything is about sex anyway! Thank you for reading, I hope you will come back soon.