Coincidentally, on the day i wrote about birthdays, Peter Singer wrote about giving birth to new generations on the NYT’s new online column on philosophy, The Stone. Ever since reading it, i’ve been thinking about the issues raised, but even after eleven days of contemplation, i’m left with far more questions than answers.
Disregarding some of the red herrings in the essay, what i take to be the underlying critical questions are,
1) Is life worth living?
2) Is it ethical to have children without having an objective answer to the first question?
For some perspective, the following are my favorite of however many of the 1258 (and still counting) comments on Singer’s post that i read that address either the first question or Singer’s main question of whether it is ethical to have children knowing that they will have to endure the pain and suffering that are an inevitable part of life.
There is the positive perception of human existence:
It’s the striving, not the fulfilment, that brings satisfaction, at least for mankind. –Phil (Comment #255)
And the negative:
Those of us who have not shot ourselves in the head are either delusional or cowards. I am a coward who wonders is everyone else really so delusional? Or are we just telling each other that life is worth living when we all know we remain alive because nature has selected for those who fear death the most, and nobody wants to look scared. To me it seems like saying “I meant to do that….” after a gross error or pretending to enjoy the flogging you are recieving for appearances sake. Does the flogged man live for the spaces between the lash? Or does he live for when the lashing is done and he can finally crawl away and die knowing he made a good show of bravery? Either way the whole thing was just torture. –Todd (Comment #54)
This is a common question that i’ve seen pop up in many places, but i never thought deeply about it until my best friend asked me it the other day. At first, i confidently said, “Smell.” I couldn’t give up sight; i’m a visual artist. I couldn’t give up hearing either because i think it’s even more powerful than sight. Touch was out of the question because i’m too sensuous, and as for taste, well, everyone knows i’m a foodie. Smell and taste work together, of course, but between those two, i thought smell would be the least useful. But then i remembered all those days of snuggling with loved ones and breathing in their unique smell emanating from their bosom; those days of hallucinating their smell when i missed them and smiling inwardly knowing that my nostrils had somehow “memorized” their smell; those days of stumbling upon articles of clothing they’d left behind, the pillows they’d slept on, and being hypnotically reminded of the tender memories. I think i could live without smelling all those other scents i love like that of the rain, the ocean, the fresh-tilled soil, but i don’t think i could give up the scent of the human being.
So which would i lose? I’d lose hearing. I honestly think i appreciate dead silence more than the most sublime music, the pristine sounds of nature, maybe even the human voice. Sound is more often an irritant to me than a pleasure. There are surely things i’d miss hearing, especially water and wind and certain voices, but when i imagine myself first without smell and then without hearing, i see myself much unhappier in the former case.
Now it’s your turn: which would you lose? And a bonus question: if you could choose one last thing to sense before losing your chosen sense, what would it be? I chose hearing, so i’d choose to hear my love’s voice, whoever that may be at that moment.
You see that remark everywhere. Anywhere from job listings to online personals, people are always seeking those who know what they want. I never quite understood what this might mean. How could anyone not know what they want? I know what i want, and those around me know what they want (assuming they are being honest with me). You might not know how to get what you want, but how could you not know what you want? It baffles me, really, and the next time i see that phrase, i am going to email whoever wrote it and ask what they mean by it.
This is something that has been bugging for quite some time now, but i was prompted to write a post about it because this exact issue came up in my Ethics lecture the other day. My Ethics professor, my wonderfully brilliant Ethics professor, of all people, used that seemingly meaningless phrase, “some people don’t know what they want.” In Book I Chapter VII of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the search for a self-sufficient good, a final end, the one thing we aim at. His assumption is that you could be aiming at something, but not be sure what you’re aiming at. My question is, if you don’t even see the target, how could you be aiming at it? That would be like someone handing me a bow and arrow and telling me to shoot at the red circle when there isn’t one. In any case, the question that naturally follows from Aristotle’s proposition that some people don’t know what they’re after is, how do you tell what you’re really after? One way is to get it first and then figure out if that’s what you’d been wanting, he says. The only way to know what you’re after is to blindly go after something, get it, and then see if you’re satisfied with it. If you are, that’s what you had been wanting. But if humanity really did function in this primitive trial and error method, we wouldn’t get so far now, would we?
You know when you’re extremely sleep-deprived, and during the day, you eventually come to a moment when all stimuli in your surroundings fall away, and whatever voice(s) you hear suddenly sounds like it’s coming from far away, and everything seems to echo? It sounds so distant yet at the same time, so internalized that it sounds like a voice echoing inside your head. Not unlike what it might be like to hear your mother’s voice from inside her womb. It’s happened to me many a time in lectures. Do you know what i’m talking about? I’m not talking about how when you focus really hard on something, every sound around you gets muffled. That happens all the time. This happens only when you’re too sleep-deprived to function properly.
I’m just curious as to what processes in your brain might have to do with this. Does this have anything to do with the sleep cycle? Is the brain, at that moment, somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness? How exactly does sleep or lack thereof affect perception and information processing?
(image via my professor’s powerpoint)
I was reading about the advent of electricity, when i came across an interesting idea: that lighting is a “powerful symbolic medium”. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful lighting is in the media and art. Lighting is the lifeline of everything from store signs to the interior and exterior of any kind of venue. The backbone of photography is the use of light, both natural and artificial. Light pervades the media, art, technology. Light allows us to see. But why is sight so valued? Why aren’t we equally preoccupied with sound or smell or anything else we can sense? For some reason, we focus so much on visuals and not enough on everything else. You say “art,” and the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is some kind of visual art, most likely a painting, but that’s certainly not the only type of art there is. Although a lot of recent technology and art has been pushing the limits of our senses, especially sight, we’re still very much a visual culture. The question is, why? Here are some of my thoughts:
In “Media in Ancient Empires,” Harold Innis says that the transition from tablet to papyrus writing, due to the mechanical differences between writing in stone and writing on paper, led to a “lightness” of thought⎯an increase in eloquence, observation, and reflection. For the first time, writing was not only used to keep factual records, but also to philosophize. Then what i’d like to know is, how is the current transition from handwriting to typing changing thought? How do the mechanical differences between the two forms of writing translate into cognitive differences? And how are those cognitive differences changing the way we communicate?
This will be a regular feature of questions that pop up in my head. They will most likely be philosophical in nature. They’re more for me to keep track of, but discussion is always, under whatever circumstances, welcome and desperately wanted!
How do we know what we know? That’s a loaded question, but one that’s simple in concept. How do we even know that we know?
How do we know we’re “human beings”? What if there are beings out there with more knowledge than us? Beings that we have no knowledge of? What is the definition of a “human being”? The “greatest” creature? The only species that has a conscience? Are we really the only creatures with a conscience? How would we even know that if we cannot think the way a different creature thinks? Maybe our concept of conscience…doesn’t even matter. Maybe what we think or what we think we think does not matter.
What exactly is “life”? Is it simply existence? Is it existence with a timeline? Existence with a beginning and an end? Existence with a mortality? Do immortal beings (whether they exist or not is not important here) even live?
p.s. i find it very difficult to get philosophical in words, because language is already an ideology–a convention, a system, a code. words in a language are completely arbitrary, yet at the same time, so…biased. each word has so much baggage.