Saturday, March 31, 2007

Evolution and the uninformed U.S. American Christian

Here is the sort of of thing that really frightens me about my fellow U.S. American peers – that they have no clue about biology. Any political intuitions they have about stem cells, therefore, must be highly suspect, if not outright invalidated on that basis alone. Consider the following results from a study which came out this week in Newsweek:
Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years; 39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view.[1]

Although at first glance it appears as a shocker that over a third of college graduates accept “the Biblical account of creation as fact”, there is probably some room for a less dire analysis to this response. Many Christians I know would be perfectly content to say that (1) it's a fact that the world is God's creation; and (2) it's a fact that God constructed the world such that evolution is God's mechanism for the development of living things. I suspect there would be a split between these two options, with many U.S. conservative Evangelicals (the least scientifically informed group) denying the second; but with other Christian groups affirming both.

Still, this is not good news for America's voting system. A scientifically uninformed populous can only hurt itself in the long run by being clueless on even the most rudimentary foundations of biology. Moreover it's easy to manipulate people with political rhetoric and confusing information on such matters when this is their default view.

The study also notes how deeply religious American sentiments run:
A belief in God and an identification with an organized religion are widespread throughout the country, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. Nine in 10 (91 percent) of American adults say they believe in God and almost as many (87 percent) say they identify with a specific religion. Christians far outnumber members of any other faith in the country, with 82 percent of the poll’s respondents identifying themselves as such. Another 5 percent say they follow a non-Christian faith, such as Judaism or Islam.[1]

Again, and as a sociological observation, the least scientifically informed group, the socially conservative U.S. American Evangelicals, are often decrying how religion is being muted in the public school system and how society is continually suppressing the exercise of Christianity. With 82% of U.S. Americans identifying themselves as Christian, it doesn't appear there could be that many “suppressors” out there to do the job!


[image] "The New Monkey Trial" Salon News Jan. 10, 2005.

[1] Brian Braiker “God’s NumbersNewsweek March 31, 2007


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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Q: Are our inner thoughts identical to our spoken words?

{Audio this essay @ 6min @ 1.34MB}

Dear Mr. Supposed Philosopher:

My supervising attorney ponders whether, "When we think, are we hearing our own thoughts in the same manner as our own spoken word?" In other words, do our thoughts sound to us like our own words do?

My Boss Is Mind-gaming Me.

Dear Mr. Too Many Voices In Your Head:

1. There is a common view, since the time of the Enlightenment philosopher, Descartes, that our minds and our consciousness are transparent -- i.e., these words refer to the same thing. Since many of our thoughts are linguistically based, and since these are often the types of thoughts we present to ourselves for review, often reinforcing our short term memories; therefore, we naturally assume that our thoughts are linguistic entities, roughly phrases and sentences. Now our thoughts need not be spoken linguistic entities, since we can perfectly well review long memorized portions of texts w/o moving a single muscle in our face, and when we are sleeping we often are seen lying perfectly still, but upon being roused will report having a dream where we are "talking" or "speaking to" someone.

Again, suppose a bullet gives one brain damage to the left hemisphere, the locus of speech for right-handed people -- such a person, though now mute may still have the full ability to write-out sentences, though he can no longer form spoken sentences. Such cases alone would be enough to show that our own thoughts need not be the same as our spoken word. And, technically, we do not "hear" our own thoughts, since there are no sound waves moving into the ear and being processed by aural centers of the brain; thus, when we say we "hear" our own thoughts, this is metaphorical language for the stream of consciousness, some of which is linguistic. (I will say more about this technicality in a moment.)

Also, consider the (admittedly sad) cases where some children are never taught to speak, but yet they still recognize patterns in the world, such as who brings their food, what it means when the bell rings five-minutes before bed time at the orphanage, etc. These children cannot have linguistic entities as thoughts, since they have had no linguistic training at all. Perhaps they have streams of imagery that substitute for their inner experiences, where we (normally trained language users) have streams of linguistic phrases which substitute for our (otherwise inner) experiences.

So too, consider the simple case of sleep walkers, who can negotiate the location of furniture, and even drive cars and push (unstarted) lawn mowers around the yard at night. Here there is no internal or external utterance at all about what to do, and where to walk, how to plant, etc; and yet thought (i.e., active brain processing with command and control of actions) is certainly occurring.

Finally, perhaps the easiest case of all is noting how we hold our head level when walking, talking, sitting, etc. No one continually reminds themselves, "I've got to hold my head level", "Hey, gotta keep the ol' noggin from bobbin," "Steady, steady, there -- thank God! -- level again!" And it's not quite right to presume we do this “without thinking", because there is indeed active brain processing with command and control of actions, namely keeping one's head at the right position over various circumstances.

Thus, and for all these reasons, hearing our own thoughts is not THE SAME AS our own spoken word.

2. Now a different question would be whether the tone, pitch, timbre, etc. of our own thoughts match that of our spoken word. Here there could be a confusion, for as mentioned above, there are not sound waves being emitted by thought, hence technically thought cannot even have tone, pitch, timbre, etc. since these are all different ways of partitioning the analysis of a sound wave.

There might be analogical similarities that I note between the phenomenon of experience called "the inner voice" and the phenomenon of experience noted by "what I'm hearing with my ears when I talk", but it's merely an analogy, not the same thing. Compare a photograph that looks very much like one's brother and the brother himself; similar in many respects, but hardly the same thing. (For instance, one weighs 229lbs [fat]; the other weighs perhaps but a couple of ounces [thin].)

But even when we note the analogy between the (so dubbed) inner voice and the feedback of our own voice, we might not always experience the same inner voice. Imagine that one's wiener dog has urinated on the carpet during a thunder storm, and one begins to angrily move toward the dog in order to beat it severely with a size 12 workboot. One might suddenly recall a voice of a kindergarten teacher from decades ago saying, "One should always be kind to our pets." Here is a clear and present thought, directly tied to an immediate situation and within an on-going action, but one which is instantly recognized as a completely different type of inner voice as we are otherwise used to identifying as that "voice" of our own thoughts.

Thus, and for all these reasons, our thoughts need not, and often do not, sound to us like our own words do.

3. In summary, the following two statements are false: (1) hearing our own thoughts IS THE SAME AS our own spoken world. And (2)our thoughts always SOUND TO US AS our own words.


[image] fiber/DIMENSIONS gallery


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Friday, March 23, 2007

Counterfactuals, Possible Worlds, and my Mom

{ Audio this essay @ 11min. @ 2.6MB }

A counterfactual is
a conditional statement whose antecedent is known (or, at least, believed) to be contrary to fact. Thus, for example, "If George W. Bush had been born in Idaho, then he would never have become President." Unlike material implications, counterfactuals are not made true by the falsity of their antecedents. Although they are not truth-functional statements, counterfactuals may be significant for the analysis of scientific hypotheses.[1]

The Philosopher J. L. Mackie, for instance, held that counterfactuals are condensed arguments; therefore, they cannot have truth values.[2] Arguments, it will be recalled, are sound (or not) or valid (or not). Only propositions, which can make up arguments, are assessed as true or false.

However, I have to confess. I believe counterfactuals are truth-functional, since I often accuse others (and get accused by others) for being wrong about my claims of hypothetical states of affairs. Sometimes it's about affairs of the past – e.g., if you had asked her on a date, she would have gone out with you – and sometimes it's about affairs of the future – e.g., if you ask her on a date, she will go out with you. The regular and effortless usage (along with communicative and predictive success) of these kinds of claims in ordinary discourse is what I think justifies my belief that counterfactuals are truth-functional. In this essay, I'll attempt to analyze counterfactuals by first placing them within the context of possible worlds, and then developing a single counterfactual to see what sense I can make of it. In the end, though I'll argue that counterfactuals can rightly be assessed as true or false, I won't be wholly convincing – admittedly, even to myself.


David Lewis is considered to have given the first robust account of counterfactuals by analyzing them in terms of the semantics of possible worlds. The truth is, I don't fully understand what this means. But I like what I've seen. Possible worlds are descriptions of the way things might be, and not every description of the various ways things might be (or might have been) can be stated in conjunction. Sometimes, it's "either/or" but not "both/and." (Sometimes this is called the hard "or" -- i.e., the "xor")

For example, it's not possible that I'm both (a) the biological son of Bill and Kay, *and* (b) the biological son of two other people (on the presumption that all sons have but two biological parents). These, (a) and (b), are two possible worlds cases that are not compatible with one another. One among those possible worlds is the so-dubbed actual world, the world in which Bill and Kay are my parents. I'll give this statement a short-hand index label.

(0:) Brint is the son of Bill and Kay.

However, some possible worlds are more similar than others. Intuitively, it seems more accurate to say that a possible world in which

(1:) Brint is the son of Bill and Vennie

has more comparative similarity to the the actual world, than a possible world in which

(2:) Brint is son of Cepheus and Myrtle.

(Let Cepheus and Myrtle be two arbitrary people who are non-relatives of my parents) In comparing the two statements, we would say that (1) is "closer to actuality" (to use the Lewis vocabulary.) To use a short-hand, we could say that (1) is closer to (0) than is (2).

In sum, given the full set of possible worlds, there will be one world in that set which is the actual world – i.e., is the world I am in when uttering the various statements. In a trivial sense, that possible world resembles the actual world more than any other; or, to say the same thing -- the actual world resembles itself more than any other of the worlds in the set of possible worlds. Or again, (0) is closest to (0). Also, there will be various worlds closer or farther away in terms of the attributes they share with the actual world. Indeed, there can be "ties" among this ordering of worlds. Recall (1), Brint is the son of Bill and Vennie, and now consider:

(3:) Brint is the son of Mike and Kay.

These two, (1) and (3), are equally close to the actual state of affairs. (Again, neither are actual states of affairs; Only Bill and Kay are rightly assessed as my parents.)


Now after that bit of review about possible worlds, maybe I'm finally in a position to examine a counterfactual. In the early '60s, my mother and father (again, Bill and Kay) met, married; and eventually bore myself and my younger brothers in the natural manner. So to construct a counterfactual, I'll posit this:

(4:) If Bill and Kay had never met, then Brint would not have been the son of Bill and Kay.

The thought behind (4) is that their meeting one another caused me to come into being, caused me to be the biological son of Bill and Kay. Again, they met and initiated a set of causes which eventually make (0) true. (I have to wonder if a chain of causes is a truth maker for a proposition. Is that right? I'm unclear on how truth is assessed for a proposition that represents a chain of causes over a temporal window. I'm guessing that I'm not the only clueless one about such matters.) So (4) presumes no meeting, counter to the historical facts of what happened in the early '60s; and (4) presumes no Brint, counter to the actual facts. (I'm here; I'm their son).

Notice that there is an event, a meeting, tied to (or not tied to) a relational fact, being a son. This tie worries me a bit. A simpler statement would be, “If the petroleum had exploded, then there would have been energy released.” That's two presumed events tied together. Or, “If the city hall were made of granite, then some building in town would be made of stone.” That's two presumed facts tied together. (4) is a bastardized version of event and fact; and even here it's of an event that wasn't, and of a fact that isn't.


Oddly enough, though (4) appears to be counterfactual, I suspect it probably isn't so. The antecedent could be true, and yet the consequent could be false – that is, it can be true that “Bill and Kay never met”, and still true that “Brint would have been the (biological) son of Bill and Kay.”

There is a possible state of affairs which barely departs from what actually happened in the early 60s. Suppose my father, being a good Hoosier, stayed to complete his degree at Indiana University. And that my mother, being a crazy-fast typist, stayed working at the newspaper office (also in Indiana). Now as is often the case, my father would have been a cash-strapped college student; and, would have taken that quick shot at earning easy money, as have done many college males: selling DNA at a local sperm bank. My mother, married at the time, would have wanted children, but obtained none from unproductive Mike. Thus, would she have simply made the choice to avail herself of a fertility clinic, the very one which good-ol' possible world Dad too regularly profited from – well, the rest falls out easily. The timing of the ovary release; the happenstance of that one special sperm cell – and here I would be, born even of the same womb, sired even by the same father. Thus, (4) does not seem appropriate as a counterfactual after all, since I could still be their biological son though they never met.

Now all counterfactual statements are hypothetical statements, and hypothetical statements are false just when the antecedent is true and the consequent is false. I was able to posit a true antecedent and false consequent without any contradictions appearing. So that's why I am thinking (4) probably isn't a counterfactual. But this introduces a confusion to me: What exactly am I claiming when I say, “That counterfactual is false.”?

First, suppose someone claims (wrongly) this to be a counterfactual:

(5:) If Bill and Kay had met, then Brint would have been the son of Bill and Kay.

Well, as a matter of history, they did meet (true antecedent) and I am their son (true consequent). Thus, at first glance, I could claim (5) is not counter to fact at all. It is a fact. A rebuttal might be that I've confused two things:

(5a:) Brint would have been the son of Bill and Kay
(5b:) Brint is the son of Bill and Kay

(5b) seems more straightforwardly true or false. But (5a) far less so; it seems to demand a context be filled before it's truth status can be assessed. Indeed, (5) itself could be read with a non-temporal “had” in the antecedent:

(5)* If Bill and Kay would have met, then Brint would have been the son of Bill and Kay.

And in this case the same worry appears for the antecedent of (5)* as it did for the consequent of (5a): a context seems demanded before a truth value can be assessed. Perhaps the undetermined truth status of “would”'s is why it has been claimed that counterfactuals are not truth-functional statements.

Second, somebody could argue more generally that I've misunderstood counterfactuals. (It's possible I've misunderstood them; I'll certainly grant that.) That a counterfactual is affirmed, doesn't exclude it from being possibly true. All I've done is given a consistent state of affairs that shows the antecedent is consistent with the state of affairs identified by the consequent. But the role of a counterfactual, so the argument runs, is to refer to a false state of affairs, not to show inconsistency between states of affairs. Perhaps there's merit to this charge against me; but, I would like to know what the object of such a reference would be – i.e., where are these so-called “false states of affairs”? Are they but abstractions within our own minds? Are they in some platonic realm of forms? Are they (false) ideas in the mind of God? I think there are problems all around here.

At this, then, I must conclude my analysis, for if I were to continue to think of counterfactuals, then it is possible that I would drive myself (and my readers) insane.


[image] Jennifer Dixon "Best of All Possible Worlds" ICM 2006 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest

[1]Philosophical Dictionary

[2] "Counterfactual Theories of Causation" Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Next Computer Interface Revolution

I was happy to see that the convergence of touch screens and big-screen TVs is progressing nicely. NYU professor, Jeff Han, has been busily advancing his research and has shown what the next computer interface will be. Take a quick 3 minute view of <the video>.

One can talk about holographic helmets, such as the air force and army use, but these seem far off as viable commercial devices, but the hardware technology for what is seen in the above video is already on the market. What Professor Jeff Han has essentially done is give us an interface mash-up, subsequently heralding the end of the mouse-driven interface.

I think this will carry the transition period between the mouse-driven computer environment (where we are), and the speech driven environment (where we want to be), though touch will never go away as an interface option, since one can do ten things at once with fingers, but only speak one word at a time with that flapping hole in the front of one's head.

Eventually, I would guess that the technology of projected keyboards [1] [2] will be expanded too. Perhaps one will step into (or lay triangulating devices around) a hot zone and then move the hands around in the air (as opposed to moving the hands around on the surface of the screen as Han is doing here in this video at a TED talk seminar).


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Data Usage

We are finally starting to see some of the results of the powerful data gathering capability of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. As the picture above shows, it is vastly superior in its information gathering capabilities as compared to previous probes. The advantage of such additional power is not just in resolution of picture data, but in combining the picture data and interpolating it in new ways. <This Link> shows a three-dimensional, Quicktime video fly-through using data collected from MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.

This video is not an "artist conception" video, but one which uses real-world data to show what would be the case if one took the fly-over trajectory from the angles depicted. I also enjoyed the passing (and enhanced) glimpse of Opportunity rover, which was taken from a previously photographed location where the rover was sited.


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Friday, March 09, 2007

Philosophical Thoughts on Dance

{ Audio this essay @ 1.1MB @ 10min } I remember in grad. school, when I was taking a class on how to be an effective teaching assistant (i.e. a well-behaved slave of the academy), in front of me sat a red-headed girl who was absolutely serious about getting a PhD in dance. On her view, dance was the singularly most important art worthy of study as regards the whole corpus of the humanities. She was of only moderate physical charisma, a bit too short, and way fanatical about dance. I caught myself thinking -- silently, of course, since I didn't want to get my @$$ stomped by a maximally fit, dance-crazed, near-midget -- "It's only dance! It's not a real subject!"

This was all years ago. I was much younger, and of a completely uncultured background; and, as I now understand, dance is a much deeper subject than what passes for said in those pitiful approximations at Junior High school courting rituals, and in those drunken entertainment venues where one finds polished steel poles and platforms dotting the floor area of a too-well carpeted hotel.

Indeed, I still know next to nothing about dance, as a particular fine art, which means I'm in an excellent position to speculate about it with wild abandon.

I was recently in Chicago, and there spent some time picking my way, room by room, through the Chicago Museum of Art. As is well attested: paintings, sculpture, and music all track the philosophical ideas of the era in which they are found. The technology, trends, and fashions of fine arts are an explicit, encarnalized commentary on the thoughts of both the elite and popular-level inhabitants of place and time. All fine art yields a commentary on the status and thinking of the civilization in which it appears; and dance, when performed as fine art, is therefore likewise a commentary on the status and thinking of its owning civilization (or era within a civilization).

On this view, then, in principle one could identify certain commitments and patterns of thought for the sponsoring era via dance. But as a warm up, consider how music yields such commitments. Note, for instance, the Harpsichord with its discrete well-partitioned sound. How convenient that it becomes fully utilized within the Age of Reason,[1] where successful reductionistic patterns of thought yield astounding, even frightening advances in the science of the day. Each discovered fact of the natural world is classified and duly partitioned neatly within the greater order of things, playing its role precisely and identifiably within the grand system of God's great design. The same could be said for each plucked note of the harpsichord within the greater movement of the orchestra, each discrete note playing it's role precisely and identifiably within some masterfully designed Baroque[2] fugue.

Can such a link be found for dance? As a statement of anthropology, dance seems to appear in all cultures and places. As language has been speculated to originate partially with the primate-level grunts, so too dance probably has its cues tied to such a sign vocabulary of physical needs:
Primitive dancers also shared certain gestures and movements, which were drawn from their everyday lives. People planting seeds swing their arms with unvarying regularity. People who are hungry rub a hand on their empty bellies. People who want to show respect or admiration bend down or bow before another individual. These gestures, and others like them, were part of the earliest dances. There is also a large vocabulary of gestures that originated as a means of expressing bodily needs. Caresses are universally taken to signify tender feelings. Clenched fists mean anger. Hopping up and down indicates excitement. Primitive dancers used all of these movements in both their social and religious or magical dances. These dances were not created and performed for entertainment, as many dances are today. One of the major reasons for them was to help tribes survive. Long before the written word could guarantee that traditions would be passed on and respected, it was dance that helped the tribe preserve its continuity.[3]

A step up from basic body motions yields the primitive mindset concerning how the world is taken to operate:
Two sorts of dance evolved as cultures developed: social dances on occasions that celebrated births, commemorated deaths, and marked special events in between; and magical or religious dances to ask the gods to end a famine, to provide rain, or to cure the sick. The medicine men of primitive cultures, whose powers to invoke the assistance of a god were feared and respected, are considered by many to be the first choreographers, or composers of formal dances.[3]

Here I've identified dance as an activity stemming from basic primate/human body motions, but there actually no need to draw the origin even so late. One might very well speak of the stylized pattern of movements performed by any animal, as a bird in courtship display, or an insect, as a honeybee in indicating a source of nectar. If dance capitalizes on the most basic patterns of body motion, then even mammalian patterns of flight, fight, etc. might have their own readily available kinsetic primitives: the wince of retreat at on-coming fast objects; the reflexive-withdrawal at being poked or stung; the coordinate movement of social mammals as a group -- all of these would predate even primate innate motions.

There might even be brain-level morphology structures which would hint at basic motor control and muscle function for movements. Each morphological hint might appear at some discernible layer of the folds within the human brain -- an organ developed from our common biological heritage with other animals. (Anciently formed, more primitive structures would appear in the middle of the brain, with more recent expansions toward the front and top.)[4]

As a statement about the human range of motion and vocabulary of standardized animal movements, one is tempted to posit a "deep grammar" of motion which dance, whether by default or by plan, tacitly acknowledges. The notion of deep grammar comes from the field of linguistics, where the best known theory is that of Noam Chomsky:
Developed to explain the ease with which children learn a language, and adults produce correct sentences, the theory envisages a common underlying structure to all languages, and a complex set of rules to generate individual utterances. [...] [O]ur astonishing creativity with words, and the phenomenal ease with which children learn a language, meant that language users employed and intuitively recognized an underlying structure. Not a structure, moreover, resting on phonemes or individual words ... but a sort of fundamental, proto-syntax[5]

Lessons along this line seem present in an area closely related to dance -- namely, martial arts. As a popular example, consider the view of Bruce Lee, who argued that all martial arts must reckon with the limits and natural physics of the human body. Given such limits, there is really not a single martial arts style that can be named as superior to another, for they all operate under the same parameters: those of the human form. Here, then, one might posit a proto-syntax of human physiology. In Lee's own words,
"There is only one type of body, 2 arms, 2 legs, etc that make up the human body. Therefore, there can only be one style of fighting. If the other guy had 4 arms and 2 legs, there might have to be a different one. Forget the belief that one style is better than the other...."[6]

Recently I ran across a video which got me thinking seriously about the whole notion of dance; or, perhaps I should say it got me re-thinking about the notion, and this time with some seriousness.

What does this dance video tell us about the philosophical ideas of today? The music is some short of hybrid between what (I believe) is called industrial and electronica. The clothing of the "dancers", if that's what they are best called, is distinctly synthetic and accentedly contemporary. It's hard to describe the movements, but computationally reductionistic would be the first phrase that comes to mind. What natural, even movement there is within the video occurs at the very end when the friends enter to recover their compatriot. Again, I know little about dance, and nothing about choreography, but I suspect that since each dancer's actions are compiled individually from a database of dance and sound tracks, someone might very well read the trajectory of how dance is modified by the dominance of standardized information templates. Windows, for example, forces the user to operated within certain pre-defined motifs, and here we see the virtual dance moves also mandated by pre-defined motifs.

Wittgenstein, the most celebrated 20th century philosopher, complained about the classical music of his time that it was dominated by the machine, and so much so that he could not bear to listen to it. As Wittgenstein said to a friend: "Music came to a full stop with Brahms; and even in Brahms I can begin to hear the sound of machinery."[7]

Perhaps aficionados of modern dance would find the wholesale embrace of the computer a likewise disconcerting development. I couldn't really say if such a disconcerted attitude would be justified; since, as my mantra has been throughout this essay, I know very little about dance.


[1] History of the Harpsichord

[2] Baroque Music Defined

[3] The History of Dance

[4] On mammal to human brain development:

4.1. Diagram: Basic plan of the animal brain:

4.2. Diagram: Sketch of human brain compared to other animal brains:

4.3. Diagram: Time scale chart of brain development parallel to other animals:

[5] C. John Holcombe "Chomskian Linguistics"

[6] "Bruce Lee" Wikiquote

[7] Béla Szabados "Wittgenstein the Musical: Notes toward an Appreciation"

[video] UNIQLO MIXPLAY You Tube.


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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Meaning of Life Miniature

Dear Mr. Supposed Philosopher:

{ Audio this essay @ 1MB @ 2min }I had this really great weekend almost completely devoid of anything of any worth or lastin' meanin'.

Essentially I just hung around with friends all weekend, hittin' junkshops, drinkin', watchin' movies, drinkin', drivin' the scenic route around the state, and drinkin'.

That resulted in some minor Monday Mornin' Contemplation along the lines of "What should one be doin' with one's life anyway???"

But fortunately the clouds were super swell today and I let any thoughts of lost life drift off. Yet a friend of mine said that she too had "been contemplating the same stuff."

What the hell would it have mattered if I'd asked your opinion on all this?


Partyin' Dog in Washington

Dear Mr. Pissin'-it-away:

Is the meaning of life determined by some ultimate goal toward which one must move, or in the small, short-term goals which one achieves decision by decision and, subsequently, reaps the benefit of? In terms of choice and execution of action, these are the two most straight-forward options .

On the other hand, perhaps it is not merely our choices and actions which give life meaning, but some relationship with The Transcendent (God, The Tao, Love, etc.) Of course the transcendent might very well *be* the ultimate (and prudent) goal toward which one's choices and actions should move; this is to say that a full relationship with The Transcendent might *be* the ideal toward which humans would chose, were they to know how to attain the object of such an ideal. But an informed judgement on The Transcendent is very difficult, of course, as there are too many who presume to have both the proper object and the proper way to achieve such an object of choice.

However, in light of the difficulty in deciding upon such metaphysical matters, most people often just hang-out in bars and drink. But at least they talk about such matters after a few rounds, for it beats saying nothing -- which by such silence would be a tacit admission that sitting around in a bar and being pleasantly buzzed is the best one could reasonably expect from life. However, many find pharmacological hedonism unsatisfying.