Friday, September 10, 2010

J-E-L-L-O

CARLOS: And then for dessert, Jell-o!

LOREN: Jell-o! Carlos, you can't eat that. Let me see what's in it. There's not even a label, Carlos! You don't know what's in it!

SCOTT: That's because Jell-o just is. It can't be broken into anything smaller.

CARLOS: He's right.

SCOTT: Jell-o has an entry in the periodic table.

Morality, God

I left this comment in response to an article about an atheist who felt himself compelled to abandon the idea of objective morality.

There's nothing logically impossible about holding the two beliefs:

1. Moral truths exist.
2. God does not.

One can believe right and wrong are brute facts of the universe (as many assert God is), that is, things that simply are, and are not explained by other deeper facts. They are like laws of physics--brunt, irreducible, simply there--and not like biological laws, which are really just generalizations from deeper chemical (and then physical) facts. To ask who created morality is as fallacious as asking who created God. It is that is.

Nonetheless, many of the reasons for rejecting the existence of God are similar to the reasons for rejecting the existence of morality: you can't see morality, people believe in different moralities, etc. So though one can hold those two beliefs simultaneously, they have to deal with the tension.

For my part, the tension eventually became too much, and I went from soft atheist to hard atheist. The reason was, however, parenthetical to theology. It actually came from reading David Chalmers's the Conscious Mind, in which he argues that everything reduces to physical facts, except consciousness. Moral truth, aesthetic truth, and other sorts of truth are abandoned. I found the argument compelling.

Nonetheless, I still act in a way most people would consider moral. I turn the other cheek. But I do this, in my view, not to follow any objective notion of right or wrong, but simply to follow my own preferences, which--fortunately--line up with most peoples'. Indeed, becoming a moral skeptic hasn't changed my behavior at all. I just swapped an objective grounding with a subjective one.

This is part of a deeper ontological indifference of mine. I am generally uninterested in whether something has a subjective or objective grounding--we can, for example, argue about the quality of a movie and in so doing be appealing to either 1. an objective ideal of cinematic truth, or 2. our personal preferences as to what's a good movie. But the standard--objective or subjective--we base the argument on is far less interesting to me than the actual argument.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Perils of Meetup Groups

So I was waiting in Barnes and Nobel for a new member of the Latin group to show up. Now, I've just seen one, not terribly good picture, on his profile, where his face isn't all that visible. All I can really tell is that he's a man with somewhat dark skin. So this is my evening. I was sitting in the cafe reading a book, waiting for anyone to show up, and after a while, a black man gets up and heads down the escalator. I thought: "Oh my god! I hope that wasn't him, I'll feel so rude!"

So I run after him, wave to the security guard, exit the store, and go running down 12th St. after a black man, now halfway down the block. Finally, I catch up, and say, "Excuse me, excuse me... *pant* you weren't waiting for the Latin class, were you?"

To which he answers: "What? Latin class? Uh no, dude. Not me."

"Oh," said I, "Sorry about that. Carry on."

So I reenter the bookstore, wave to the security guard, sit down, read my book, drink my coffee. And then another black man gets up from a table and goes downstairs... and wait for it, wait for it--there I go, running after him.

Never did find the guy. Did meet a lot of African Americans with no interest in learning Latin, so, I guess the day wasn't a complete waste.

Wien Weirdness

Woman imprisoned eight years in Viennese basement by Austrian lunatic. Upon escape, given job as talk show host.

Meals, EspaƱol

SCOTT: With a "U" Carlos, with a "U"! A "branch" es una rama--nobody's going to want to come to that.
During my lunch break, I like to walk around town talking to random people, about whatever. I do this because 1. I'm afraid of doing it, and I like doing things I'm afraid of and 2. it makes me feel good to connect with people, most of whom are quite friendly and eager to chat. But approach enough people with a smile and you're bound to get asked for money by someone, as I did today. A homeless man and I bartered, I eventually got him down to agreeing to a cup of coffee. So I took him to this little local place owned by a Korean family I know, and bought us a couple of coffees. I was grumpy at first, but he turned out to be quite a sweet person all in all, and it was nice talking to him.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Workplace Hostility

BOSS: Want a piece of gum?

SCOTT:
I already took one. Are you being sarcastic?

BOSS:
No.

SCOTT:
...

BOSS: ...

SCOTT:
I still can't tell.

BOSS: Just help me find this Post-It note. Have so many of the things I can't find the one I need.

SCOTT (reflecting, not helping):
You know, it would be a good idea if someone made a stack of Post-Its that started one color and slowly changed colors as you got through the stack. Then you could tell how old each Post-It was.

BOSS: That's a great idea. I'm sure nobody's thought of that.

SCOTT: ...

BOSS: ...

SCOTT: Again, I'm having trouble identifying the sarcasm here.

BOSS:
You weren't here last week, were you?

SCOTT:
Nope.

BOSS: Ah, neither was I.

SCOTT: Wait, no, I was here last week. I remember now. I came in bright and early every day.

BOSS: Good save.

SCOTT:
Worked a week of twelve hour days.

________________________________________

DENEN:
Where's everybody else? Are they having a meeting without me?

SCOTT: Yep. The Anti-Denens Club meeting. Right down the hall. Look for the "No Denens Allowed" sign.

DENEN:
That explains it.

SCOTT: The club is older than your being here, too. For the first four years, the Anti-Denen Club was kind of pointless, but lately it's come into its own.

DENEN: It obviously didn't work too well. I got hired after all.

SCOTT: All right, all right, fair enough. No, I agree, this year has not been a banner year for the club. But we've all learned from our mistakes and are looking forward to a great fourth quarter.