Some Concepts of Progress

There has been a lot of discussion about the concept of progress for many years, and the topic is still controversial.

There are lists of the benefits from the progress we have made over the past few centuries, and there is a lot of dissent about them.

The idea of progress might seem to be straightforward, but it has its subtleties and its contradictions.

What is Progress?

Religious Freedom and Religious Charities

There is much talk at the moment about "religious freedom" in Australia, and there is about to be a great deal more. The Federal Coalition government, pledged a Religious Discrimination Act in the last election, and in recent weeks we have witnessed the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, declare that he is seeking a bipartisan approach to the Act with discussions with the leader of the opposition, Anthony Albanese. From all accounts the bill can be expected very soon; indeed a month ago a draft was prepared with suggestions that it would be presented to parliament in mid-August.

Mysteries of Fundamental Physics

While the science of physics is able to explain an enormous amount of things about the world, there are still enough mysteries to keep physicists busy for a long, long time. I will talk about mysteries relating to fundamental physics. Fundamental physics explains the rest of physics and provides the basis of chemistry.

Fundamental physics is just one small part of science, but discovering solutions to its mysteries can reveal new kinds of scientific knowledge.

Creationists say that the existence of scientific mysteries demonstrates that all science is unsound. This is their argument against the theory of evolution.

Some aspects of science may be hard to understand or believe. But, at a time when there are so many global problems that cannot be addressed without scientific guidance, the many groundless alternative beliefs and fake news are a threat to humanity.
It would help humanity if more people had some idea about scientific mysteries and the large body of science that surrounds them.

Making Machines Conscious

Some people expect that we will soon be able to make computers that will be conscious.

Their argument is that since brains are intelligent physical structures that can make us consciousness, it should also be possible for other intelligent physical structures, such as computers, to be made conscious.
The concept of manufacturing machines that are conscious raises a few issues.

The End Is Nigh: Failed Stewardship of Planet Earth

Early this year Christian numerologist and astrologer David Meade proclaimed that April 23 would be the days of the second coming of Christ, the Rapture, the end of the world. It generated some media attention just prior to that date although, it must be said, not much after. Mind you, this was the second attempt of David Meade who also reported that end-times would occur on 23 September in 2017.

Some of you may remember that almost ten years ago, I an address gave at this church on the alleged prophecies of a 2012 destruction based on a destructive interpretation of the Mesoamerican long-count calendar and an associated science fiction disaster film. That address was entitled "2012 : From Ancient Brilliance to Modern Nonsense" [1], where I gave great credit to the Mesoamericans for developing a sophisticated calendar, and castigated contemporary (albeit fringe) interpretations for trying to make it something that it was not.

For this century alone there has been almost twenty-five major predictions of the end of the world that have passed, and several that are yet to come. Ronald Weinland, of the "Church of God Preparing for the Kingdom of God" has predicted the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus in 2011, in 2012, in 2013, and most recently June 9, 2019.

If we go back into the twentieth century there are of course many, many examples. The Jehovah's Witnesses made four such predictions. Herbert Armstrong, the leader of the Worldwide Church of God, also managed four. Some of these were quite tragic; on the 26th March 1997 thirty-nine members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed suicide under the belief that the souls would join a UFO on the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet, escaping the "recycling" of Earth (their website is still kept in its 1997 glory [2]).

The Philosophy of Technology

Inverting A Common Assumption

It is common that technology is defined as "applied science", deriving from Jacob Bigelow's 1829 definition as "principles, processes, and nomenclatures of the more conspicuous arts, particularly those which involve applications of science". Webster's defines technology as "industrial science; the science of systematic knowledge of the industrial arts", Collins offers "the application of practical sciences to industry or commerce", and Oxford has "the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes". For what it's worth, the etymology of the word is from the Hellenic "tekhnelogia", tekhne art, creation, and -logia, explanation.

These contemporary definitions imply that science has priority over technology and precedes technology, and historically the philosophy of technology has been confined as a minor tangent to the philosophy of science, and occasionally touching on the history of technology. However, in the past forty years or so, various philosophers of technology invert this common assumption [1], claiming that it is an idealist view that places epistemology over ontology. Rather than technology being applied science, they have argued that science is applied technology. Once we are beyond our natural capacities of observation, all our empirical information is technologically mediated. Science is a rational abstraction of data gained from technology that predicts empirical results. But the empirical results have a priority, discoveries of fact trump the scientific theory, and the scientific theory must adapt to empirical truth or die (e.g., spontaneous generation, miasma theory of disease, phlogiston theory, luminiferous aether, classical physics, phrenology).

Being Dead and Being Alive

"Being Dead" could seem like a gruesome topic, but there are lots of human activities relating to people who are dead. There is the annual celebration of ANZAC day, which is an established part of Australian life. For tens of thousands of years there have been traditional procedures relating to dead people.

Many people don't like talking about or hearing about dying or becoming dead. I wonder whether anyone who usually comes to the Philosophy Forum was put off by this topic.

There are euphemisms about being dead. The "dear departed" have "passed away" or "gone to their Maker" or are "no longer with us". There are also less delicate expressions whereby the person "bit the dust", has "carked it" or "kicked the bucket".

Most of us have justifiable concerns about death – what our own death might be like, and that of our family and friends. Most people take some kind of care to avoid doing anything that could have some risk of death. Some people carelessly or knowingly do things that risk premature death, such as smoking, or texting while driving a motor vehicle. Some people, sometimes called "daredevils", get a thrill from doing things that have a risk of death. They enjoy "cheating death". These various kinds of action display something of what people think about being dead, and about being alive.

There are many things that concern us about being alive, such as sickness and comfort and money and social status and boredom. Sometimes we look forward to being dead as a welcome relief from the pain and suffering of being alive.

There is also a fascination with death. Reports of death are eagerly discussed, irrespective of whether the dead are known or unknown. Murder mysteries are the topic of many novels, television series and films.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jnr

1. Introduction

In the early evening of April 4, 1968, a shot rang out in Memphis sky that would be heard around the world [1]. The shot was an assassination of a Reverend who had travelled to the city in support of sanitation public works employees, who had been on strike over wages and conditions. The Reverend in question was, of course, Martin Luther King Jnr (often referred to as MLK), a Baptist minister and political activist for civil rights, for peace, and for economic justice. Described as "the conscience of his generation" by President Jimmy Carter [2], the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed just after his assassination. In his lifetime King was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and was a post-humous recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. In 1983 Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into U.S. law as am American federal holiday, which was finally recognised by all U.S. states in 2000.

Fifty years has passed since MLK's death, and almost ninety since his birth. It is opportune to remember this transformative leader, their works, their beliefs, and their hopes and to evaluate them. It is indeed true that people do make history, but they certainly do not choose the conditions [3]. People are not born leaders, but they may indeed develop the traits that provide effective leadership - responsibility, perseverance, innovation, confidence - and that they take account of the contingencies of the day developing a charisma which challenges existing authority and inspires followers, making their lives sublime. For most importantly, a leader must have followers; not everyone wants to be a leader, and behind every leader are their followers and the organisational infrastructure that delegates leadership to them. The footprints in the sands of time [4] that of a great leader are not theirs alone.

It is with this in mind that we can review the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jnr, and the organisations that he was part of. We can then look at the role that the Christian religion played in his life, his ideas, and actions. As a practical person we can also review his political views to the dominant ideologies of the day, and especially the strategy of non-violent resistance and the inspiration by Mahatma Gandhi. Finally, before engaging in an evaluation of of MLK as a whole, a look at one of his challenging ideas in economics, an issue which of course the mainstream political establishment is yet to address, as it raises some various serious issues towards capitalist property rights. Whilst capitalism may drag its feet on issues of political equality, it can eventually accept it. It has far greater trouble accepting those ideas which are contrary to its own foundational principles. It is after all, a religion based on moral blame of their poor, rather than moral repentance by the rich [5].

Curiosity, Innovation, Society - and Electrical Telecommunication

Human curiosity, and innovation, and society, or, if you like, science, and technology, and culture, each has its own independent ethos. But they continually affect each other. This interaction can be seen in the emergence and development of many kinds of technologies, each of which has followed its own particular course and has had its own particular outcomes.

I will now discuss one particular case, electrical telecommunication, which transformed societies, by delivering information more quickly and more copiously.

Before the existence of electrical telecommunication, information was sent by a range of technologies, such as shouting or other sounds, beacons, and the transport of written information by human runners, carrier pigeons, etc.

Electrical telecommunication could not even have been thought about, until there was an awareness of the concept of electricity. It took a lot of human curiosity and innovation to bring this into being, and a lot more to make it really effective.

We now think of electricity being either static, that is, not moving, or current, which is continuously moving.

Static electricity is the condition when something has an electric charge, that is, when it contains either an excess of electrons or a shortage of electrons. This imbalance creates a force, measured in volts, that tries to restore the balance.

Static electricity had been observed for thousands of years, in the form of lightning, and fish that could give electric shocks when touched, and amber (the same amber sometimes used in jewellery) which, when rubbed by some other materials would attract small objects, similar to the attraction of a magnet. These occurrences were not thought to be connected in any way.

Capitalism and Socialism

What is Capitalism?

Well, we’re all familiar with Capitalism, as it is what stacks the shelves in the supermarket; whereas you’d queue all day for half-a-loaf of bread in the old Soviet Union.

Of course, your local supermarket has at least two brands of everything- that’s the virtue of competition –unless the supermarket is striving for a monopoly in the product, by introducing its “own brand”.

And regulation is needed, to ensure the product meets a certain standard of quality, with ingredients displayed on the packet. Also, at not too low a price, lest the supplier goes broke.
So, it is clear that unfettered Market Forces is not ideal.

With Fall of the Berlin Wall, and collapse of the Soviet Union, it was assumed that Utopia had arrived – or that was implied. All that is needed now is fine tuning. (How’s the All Ords today?)
However, now, with the political advent of Bernie Sanders in USA, Jeremy Corbyn in UK, and Donald J Trump as US President, a critique of capitalism is evident – all is not well. We have popularism and protectionism. Likewise, Brexit and problems with the European Union and its PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain).

After all, communism tried to rectify the inherent defects of capitalism, and the demise of communism leaves capitalism with the same defects it always had – and which are resurfacing.

But, enough of this, let us get back to basics.


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