Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life: FINAAAAAAALS!

I'm fully entrenched now in finals week, my sanity drains, my schedule presses in on me like a vice-grip. I'll get through it of course, and there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Specifically, I'm heading off for 10-days in merrie olde yngland. Can't wait.

Oh, and I'm planning to blog about my trip, though I'm not sure yet how steady I'll be able to be.

What I learned... on Slate: Arsenic and No Life

According to some scientists cited in Slate, the study which reports that a bacteria was able to replace phosphorus with arsenic was flawed, and the data is at best inconclusive. Well, if that's true, it's rather disappointing, though not nearly so much as NASA hinting they'd found alien life when earth-based arsenic life was all they had to report.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Music Review: the Orange Effect

I don't normally do music reviews, mainly because, while I love music, I'm no musician and I don't feel like I have the vocabulary to talk about it. That said, I recently saw the band the Orange Effect in concert for the second time, and they are so incredibly good, that I feel compelled to give them a review.

the Orange Effect is a local band in Orange County, and I'm not entirely sure how to describe their genre. They call themselves "Indie-Americana-Folk-Pop-Post-Rock-Alt-Country-Neo-Soul" which seems good enough to me.

The band has a very energetic, lively and varied sound. Harmonies are a big part of their music and the bass and drums are very prominent in their songs, giving them something of a martial sound.

The real thing that makes the Orange Effect stand out, though, is the sheer talent of its members. Every single one of them is a brilliant musician, and all of them but the drummer (who is one of the best I've seen) play multiple instruments and sing. A result of this is that the Orange Effect really feels like a band, rather than one guy with backup.

They also have a fantastic stage presence that makes their concerts a blast. It took me awhile to get out to one as a friend of mine, Tim Bauer, is in the band, and going out to a friend's concert can be a bit nerve wracking. If it's not a great band...  awkward. Well, if you live in Orange County, don't make the mistake I made, get out to one of their concerts. I'm certainly going to be making it out to every one I can.

They've also released a CD, which I recommend you pick up. A word of caution there, though. While their music is absolutely amazing, the mixing of the CD isn't perfect, and that has some unfortunate results. As I said, the drums, bass and harmonies are a big part of what makes their music, and the guy who mixed the CD doesn't seem to have gotten that as the harmonies have been turned into backup vocals and the drums and bass likewise pushed into the background.1 This by no means makes it a bad CD, it's just not a very representative one. Had I not seen them in concert, I wouldn't have noticed the problem, I just would have thought the band more generic than it really is.

All my criticisms aside, I've listened to the CD close to a dozen times since I got it on Friday, and you should definitely pick it up. More importantly though, if you live in or around Orange County, do yourself a favor and go to one of their concerts - you won't regret it and you'll be supporting some genuinely brilliant local music.



P.S. The sideshows for their CD release concert, Dawson and Marrie and Alex Rhodes were also pretty sweet.
___________________________________________________________
1. I've found turning the bass and treble up on my sound system helps with the drums and base, though not the vocals.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What I learned... on KPCC: Arsenic and Old Life

This one even has a mohawk
There have been quite a lot of bizarre discoveries of bacteria, called extremophiles (makes me think of a hardcore sports germ), living in insanely harsh environments. Well, researchers have discovered that a bacteria living in California's Mono Lake can replace the phosphorous that serves as the skeleton of its DNA with arsenic. Pretty cool I'd say.

You can read and listen more about it here. 

Theology/Politics: That Monstrous United Nations (Some Vitriol)


There's a small group of people in the world today, almost entirely American, who have made something of a sport trying to tie current world events into the book of Revelation. Often, their reasoning is quite dubious - a beast with ten horns? Clearly a one world government with ten regions!1

One of the favorite targets of these prognosticators is the United Nations. The UN is a world spanning power (never mind that it's powerless) and that looks kind of like a on world government, which we all know will be the government of the anti-Christ (see above). And, they like to point out, the UN wants to split the world into ten governmental regions (something I've never been able to confirm outside of their circles) and the Bible talks about a beast with ten horns that is so clearly a one world government with ten regions, the connections couldn't be more clear (ten being a very uncommon number and all).

That isn't to say I'm a fan of a one world government or anything. Often, entities that seek one world government are grasping and imperialistic (Ancient Rome, Hilter's Germany, etc.) and, even where they aren't, they would set up an inefficient, centralized system of government, which you all know I'm no fan of.

Heck, the UN is a far from perfect institution. Mostly powerless, where it does exert influence it often does more harm than good (look at affiliate organizations like the World Bank) but all this has nothing to do with poverty.

But the UN is no one world government, it's not even close, and even if it were, their reading of Revelation is dubious to begin with.

What the UN does do is tell countries (mostly ineffectively) what to do. Countries like the United States.

And that's the real reason they hate and fear the UN, because it has the presumption to tell the United States of America (God's Country after all!) what to do.2

_________________________________________________
1. Actually, since at least some of the point of Revelation (I think) is to prophesy historical patterns (as opposed to specific historical events) they can even be right, but not for the reasons they think.
2. I should say I don't think most people who follow these "interpreters" of Revelation have this view, I solely blame the "interpreters." I doubt even they are quite aware of it. This is simply a symptom of patriotism meaning more than faith in God.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Philosophy: Freedom as Limits

We are only free in that we have limits.


What do I mean?

A little over a month ago, I wrote a post on homosexuality, and on what I see as a mistake in how the debate about it is usually conducted. I got many responses to that post (protip: if you want your blog to get a lot of hits, write on something controversial) and, in response to one of those, I wrote a comment about the relationship between genetics and choice. 


As I said in that comment, genetics are, in one sense, predetermining of the kind of people we will be. It might seem, then, that where genetics controls us, freedom is absent. Yet, I contend, there is a much more complicated relationship here, and, speaking more broadly, a much more complicated relationship between limits in general and freedom. 


Typically, we think of freedom, and consequently choice, as the ability to be free from constraints. Often, this is a metaphysical reflection on a political reality. A person held back by the law from driving 100mph down a busy street is not, in one sense, free to perform that action. And there is some truth in this, an utterly predetermined being, with no choice whatsoever in its course of action (for example, a rock) would in no sense be free.


However, there is a flipside to this. In having limits, I have something to act against, and that in turn actually gives me choice. Take the above mentioned case of genetics - genetics gives me a certain sort of body, and that body gives me limits (I can't fly or run faster than a locomotive), yet at the same time it is only in terms of that body that I can make many of my choices (whether to type and this computer or go for a jog for example). Without the limits of a body, the choices of physical actions would be meaningless. Likewise, the law may prevent me from going 100mph (without consequences) but this in turn means I'm free to cross the busy street without fearing a car barreling over me at 100mph. 


This last case also relates to a further point, that limits not only make us free, but they make us free to flourish. This is particularly true in the case of morality. Whatever your views to the objectivity of morality, anyone would agree that a person who feels protected from murder will be more likely to thrive (even though the choice of murdering another is thereby cut off to him). 


Further, if we have in mind any view of human nature in which men are fallible and liable to fall into grave immorality, whatever system or training helps that nature to take hold of its passions and become thereby better able to follow morality, even though it blocks off the former bad choices, creates in the man another kind of positive freedom.


Thus, freedom, at least for humans, seems to always exist in light of limits. Limits are a precondition for genuine choice1
_______________________________________________________________
1. I cannot claim these ideas as my own, though the specific expression of them, especially in terms of embodiment, is. I'm not sure exactly where I've picked up these notions, but I am aware that I have heard similar views advocated at various times and do want to give those individuals due credit to the best of my ability. It seems to me that Kant espouses something like this view in the last section of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, though typical of Kant it is written in very obscure language that makes it hard to be sure. I've further heard a discussion of the difference between negative freedom (freedom from restraints) and positive freedom (freedom for a kind of action) given at certain times. One case was a Mars Hill Audio discussion, and another was in a discussion of the ideas of Phillip Blond. Finally, my wonderful Bishop and pastor Todd Hunter espoused a similar idea in a sermon while talking about training in virtue. This in turn, I am told, comes from Aristotle and can also be found in Anselm (and no doubt Aquinas). 

Book Review: Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein 1960 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel 


After finishing The Forever War, it seemed appropriate to pick up and read the book which, in many ways, had been its precursor.  Starship Troopers is considered by many to be the origin of the "space marine" genre (though the titular troopers are actually army) and also criticized by many as being, supposedly, favorable to fascism.


I can't speak for it's views on fascism, but I can see how it started a genre. The book is a fascinating piece of world creation, and chock full of ideas. It's important to know coming in that these ideas are the point of the book. Certainly, Juan Rico, the narrator, is a definite character whose fate you care about, but the narrative is not about an exciting story, and at times gets bogged down in long philosophy or history lectures on the part of his instructors. The first time I picked up this book a few years ago I ended up getting bored with it while Rico was still in training because I'd been expecting an exciting war story. 


 I really don't see fascism in the book, though it was decidedly pro-military and critical of free democracy.  Heinlein dedicates the story "to all sergeants everywhere who have labored to make men out of boys." And that, ultimately, seems to be the theme of the story. Juan Rico begins as a young man, unsure of himself, mediocre in school and unthinkingly following his friends, and bit by bit the military takes him away from this. 


Finally, it should be noted that the mobile infantry of Starship Troopers is a voluntary corps. The book is critical of conscription armies, and in many ways this is what sets it apart from The Forever War. It's not as simple as Starship Troopers being pro-military and The Forever War being anti-military. The one is about a volunteer army fighting to defend its homeland, the other about a conscript army fighting for reasons unknown. One is Vietnam, the other World War 2. Both authors have interesting perspectives (though I don't agree fully with either) and, though Haldeman did criticize the book for being too pro-military,  both share a mutual respect.


This is another one I recommend to pick up. Oh, and I'm told it's nothing like the film. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: The Forever War

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman1
1976 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1975 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel 



Awhile back I did a review of another Haldeman book, Camouflage, another award-winning novel which I found extremely underwhelming. Needless to say, I was somewhat worried in approaching The Forever War. At the same time, all the summaries of the book I'd heard made it sound extremely interesting. The basic concept is this - a physicist, William Mandella, is drafted into the military to fight an alien race which has attacked human vessels, but who no one has ever seen. The war begins, and due to time dilation, a few years of war time for Mandella become thousands of years back home. As Mandella returns home, he must deal with the isolation the war has brought on him. 


Haldeman himself is a physicist and a veteran of the Vietnam war, so I also thought his experience should add well to the story. So how would things turn out? On the one hand, an interesting concept and a writer who knows his subject; on the other hand, a very underwhelming book by the same author.
When the book first started the worst seemed confirmed. The military training the characters went through was absurdly over the top in the lack of care showed by the soldiers's superiors (live ammo training, etc.) and the book looked like it was going to sink into the juvenile use of sex so many sci-fi authors seem to fall into. 


Thankfully, I stuck with the book, and my initial impressions were completely wrong. With this story, Haldeman undoubtedly knows what he's doing. Even the sex that initially worried me was, as my friend pointed out to me when I was half-way through, far too deliberate to be "juvenile" and ended up playing an extremely important role in the alienation experienced by the characters. 


I'm still not sure what I think about the stories ending, but either way it's not really important.  The book isn't so much about a narrative, but about the effects of the Forever War on Mandella and the Earth. We follow him closely, and in many ways experience with him the disillusionment and alienation of the war. 


This is an excellent book, and in many ways it feels like a science fiction book ahead of its time. I recommend it to those interested in creative uses of science fiction tropes and in a soldier's perspective on war. 
__________________________________________________________
1. I actually listened to this one as an audiobook and the reader was quite excellent. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Life: NaNoNoWriMo

I'm afraid I'm going to have to throw in the towel on NaNoWriMo (Making this then, for me, NaNoNoWriMo). My time is pretty well consumed with school. Hopefully next year, or maybe I'll do National Novel Writing Summer (which doesn't really exist, but it should). Better luck to the rest of you out there who are doing this.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Philosophy: The Insolubility of Moral Dilemmas

In the law department at UCLA, they have a saying that says "hard cases make bad law," or so I'm told.1 The general idea, as I understand it, is that if you try and tailor-make laws to fit the bizarre borderline cases, you'll end up with laws that fit almost no one. This principle notwithstanding, modern moral philosophy seems to go straight to thorny cases2 to test any moral theory. The thinking behind this seems to be based on the idea that a moral theory is higher than mere legal issues, and should be able to handle all problems.

However, while I am definitely a believer in the objectivity of morality, I'm not sure any good moral principle can handle any and all cases. The reason for this, I think, is the fallen nature of the world3. Specifically, the current world, the Old Creation, is broken. Things happen in the world that, if it were as it was meant to me, shouldn't happen. Morality, on the other hand, is in alignment with the New Creation, the world as-it-should-be. Since these two principles are in conflict, the fallen nature of the world simply will result in cases in which no moral decision can be made4.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't test moral theories at all, but it does mean we should not expect them to have definite answers to the tough questions - these aren't what they are built for.
_____________________________________________________________
1. A lawyer friend of mine has assured me that no such thing was said at her law school.
2. An example case - you are in control of a train that is out of control. The only option open to you is to switch the train onto another track. On the track you're currently on, twenty people are tied down and will die if you continue. However, there is a single individual on the other track that you will kill if you switch over (who is often made into Gandhi, Einstein or your true love to make things interesting). Which action is right?
3. My reasoning here is intimately tied into a Christian world view, and also likely very influenced by an Aristotelian picture. However, I'm fairly certain this principle could at the very least be expanded to a materialist world view. i.e. since the world is not fundamentally a moral reality, any moral system will inevitably come into conflict with it at times.
4. This is where law becomes important. Societies built with good laws help to build an environment where such cases are less likely to arise (you're less likely to have to kill to protect yourself from a bully, or to get a meal, etc.) and people are then able to act more in accordance with the Good. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Politics: The Real Bias of the Media

"The Media1 has a pervasive, absolute liberal agenda."

Sound familiar? Most of us have probably heard this claim levied at the media (or conservatism in the case of Fox). 

But is it true? Well, I think to a degree it is. No doubt many in the media do lean to the left, and whatever their intentions they cannot help but be influenced by their worldview. However, I do not think this is the most fundamental bias of the media.

No, the most fundamental bias in the media is a bias for sensation. Sensation gets attention. Attention gets money. That is why disasters, celebrity scandals and wars are its favorite topics. Moreover, I even think this is part of what often influences it towards progressivism, since progressivism overturns what is and is therefore much more sensational than "conservatism" (unless of course those conservatives are shouting and calling people Nazis).

1. I should note, that the very language of the Liberal Agenda, or any other generic mass noun "agenda" (the gay agenda, the religious right's agenda, etc.) is actually quite disingenuous as it implies that large, diverse groups of people have some unified agenda.

Theology: Sola Scriptura?

There are groups of Christians who seem to believe that Christian doctrine emerges independently from the pages of Scripture. This emerges anew for each individual in an absolute way. Tradition and authority, and often reason, are obliterated. Often, these people refer back to the Reformers, particularly Luther, as the ones who broke us away from our slavery to these twin evils. Never mind that Luther would not have agreed with them (despite his famous statement about "sola scriptura.") Naturally, this radically modernist viewpoint leads to a thorough disdain for high churches that do venerate tradition and authority.

Taken to this extreme, "sola scriptura" becomes utterly absurd. Scripture, authority tradition and reason are all important parts of proper theology. Protestant tradition holds scripture to be primary, but it cannot logically be untangled from the other threads.

New Testament scripture was written by Apostles, or those who directly knew Apostles. In time, these works were taken up by the majority of the church, and eventually canonized. The canonizing of these works was not random, but based on certain criteria, namely, the aforementioned apostolic authorship, general acceptance by the church, and, additionally, consistency with the whole of scripture.

So what do we have here? Scripture is first written by foundational authorities (however inspired by the Holy Spirit), then enters into the church by tradition, and finally validated by further authorities on the basis of good reason.

Thus, though we should indeed hold tradition, authority and reason to be subservient to scripture, to reject them, one truly must reject scripture. The Bible is part of our world, part of our history, an incarnate presentation of the word of God, and it cannot be removed from that fact.
_____________________________________________________
1. This post is modified from a comment I made in a thread on Facebook.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Life: NaNoWriMo

November. It's a good month, happens to be the one I was born in, and of course there's Thanksgiving.

It's also NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo, that's National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is to write a terrible, sloppy, but complete draft of a 50,000 word novel in one month.

I'm going to give it a shot. Not sure how likely it is that I'll actually hit the goal. I'm in the middle of school, got a research project and several classes and those are of course priorities, but that won't stop me from trying.

Will you join me?

Friday, October 29, 2010

What I Learned... On NPR: Breathe Deep and... Taste?

You have bitter taste receptors... in your lungs. Today on NPR's "Science Friday" show I learned that researchers from the University of Maryland had discovered taste receptors identical to those found in the mouth that are responsible for bitter taste.

What's awesome is that when stimulated these cause the bronchial tubes to loosen (more so than any known drug): in other words, this could lead to a very good treatment for asthma. Brilliant!

You can listen to the podcast of the NPR interview here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

TV Review: Stephen Moffat's Time Travelling Detective

Okay, so he's not really time travelling, Stephen Moffat's Sherlock Holmes has simply been set in modern London. There's more than one reason I've called him a time traveler though. Moffat's brilliant, eccentric, obnoxious "high functioning sociopath" Sherlock Holmes is more than a little reminiscent of the latest incarnation of the time travelling Doctor from Doctor Who. That's fine by me, Moffat's a brilliant writer and I'm all for getting to see another eccentric genius written by him. And actually, Sherlock isn't entirely like Matt Smith's Doctor, he's more like him turned up to eleven (pardon the pun). He's got all the genius and condescension without the sympathy. I suppose it could annoy some (even wore a bit on me at times) but on the whole I'd say it's brilliant.

Watson is also good, though I understand quite changed from his original, and the rest of the supporting cast do their jobs quite nicely. The dialogue between the character's is fantastically witty (plenty of laughs to be had) and there's plenty of clever references to Sherlock canon.

The plot is fun too, and it even seems to be setting up for a pretty interesting arc involving the slow revealing of an archnemesis and the question of just how sane our hero really is.

If had any complaint so far, it would be that the actor playing Sherlock Holmes is a bit of a mumbler, and when he gets to talking a mile a minute it can be hard to understand him. Oh well.

Keep up the good work Moffat.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What I learned... on NPR: Nutritious Nukes

As angry as I may be at NPR, I still greatly enjoy the show, and I learn quite a bit from it - sometimes what I learn are important issues, sometimes it's just fun information. So my first "What I learned..." is going to be about something I learned on NPR.

What I learned...

Surprisingly, and quite the opposite of what you'd expect, if you're going to cook veggies and you want to maintain their nutritional value, the best option is not boiling or even steaming, but... cooking them in the microwave.

Yes, the microwave is the best way to cook something.

Who knew?

What I learned...: A New Blog Series

I'm starting up a new series on this blog called "What I learned..." In it, I'm going to discuss various interesting bits of trivia I pick up that I'd like to share, be they from school, books, the radio or others. These will be quick snappy posts that I hope you'll enjoy.

Life: Blog, Blog, Blog

While I'm on about plugging blogs.

Diversity of Lions

Here's the blog of my friend Fernando Rojas, another brilliant fellow (also with a great sense of humor).

Check it out.

Life: Another Blog Lives!

Fresh of the blag-o-press comes a new blog. It's a baby right now, so there's not much, but when there is I can promise it will be good. The blog is owned by my friend Brett Stroud, who is, seriously, one of the smartest people I know. Highly recommend you check it out, especially as he gets it rolling.

Brett A. Stroud Blog

Cheers.

Politics: NPR's Ethic Violation (An Angry Rant)

You've probably heard by now if you watch the news - NPR has fired Juan Williams, one of their political analysts, for comments he made about Muslims on the O'Reilly factor. The comment made, by the way, concerned an honest expression of a reaction he sometimes has towards Muslims. He goes on to argue, against O'Reilly's nuttery, that we have to make the distinction between radical, militant Islam, and the rest of Islam.

I really don't have much to say about this, except that NPR's decision enrages me. His comments in no way effected his position as a news analyst for NPR, nor do they reflect on NPR. Further, they're not even bigoted (a distinction has to be made between "This is how I react to things sometimes" and "this is how one should react to things).

Frankly, I find what NPR has done to be disgusting. They supposedly fired Williams over an ethical violation, but in reality it is they who have committed the ethical violation. I don't care how disgusting they found his comments, if it did not effect his work at NPR, they had no business firing him. Doing so was dishonest of them as a news organization. They acted on the basis of their political bias, which is not, in theory, the duty of a news organization. They were apparently seeking to protect their reputation, but as far as I'm concerned they have only damaged it.

This isn't even mentioning the terrible way they went about his firing.

By the way, it's not that Juan Williams is some favorite of mine - I hadn't even heard of him before today. I'm even inclined to distrust people who are willing to go on the O'Reilly Factor - the pundits at Fox are all of them nuts. No, it's the principle of the thing.

NPR, you've really screwed up this time.


Here's the full segment from the O'Reilly Factor (try not to get to distracted by O'Reilly being a jerk).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review: Dresden Files, Book 1, Storm Front

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a very manly man. He takes hits like the rest of them, then he takes some more. He could give up, but people are counting on him, the women are beautiful, and Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a manly man.

That, I think, provides a fairly adequate summary of the two (really one-and-a-half) Dresden Files books I've read so far. As you may be able to tell from my sarcastic introduction, this formula has begun to wear a bit half way through the second book, but I shouldn't be too harsh on on these books. After all, they're fun, page-turning, and drenched with enough testosterone to make Daniel Craig weep with inadequacy.

But where was I? Oh yes, Storm Front. This is the first book in a rather long series, and sets the tone of manly manliness and magic that seems like its going to be the blueprint for the series. The main character is a private detective of a very special sort operation out of Chicago. He's special because he happens to be a wizard (a manly wizard). In this first adventure, Harry helps the police department to solve a very mysterious murder, whilst dealing with threats from a magical council, and another small case on the side that, well, don't want to spoil too much...

So, like I said, the books fun and should keep you turning the pages. Though, of the people I know who've read this book, reactions have varied quite a bit. My sister thinks they're silly, my friend Fernando seems to think them fairly average, and they are my ex-girlfriend's favorite series. Nobody, at any rate, thinks them terrible.

Give it a read if your in the mood for some pulp. And manliness.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Philosophy: Metaethics - What is Morality?

A few days ago, I made a post regarding what I considered to be a confusion in the public debate over homosexuality. Since then, that post has gotten quite a few comments, and things recently drifted into the area of metaethics.

Wait. Metaethics? 

Yes, nice term. What does it mean? Within philosophy, analytic philosophy in particular, definition is an important part of the game. For example, defining the question, as I discussed in my last post, is a very important task. "Metaethics," is the field within philosophy that aims to "define the question" of ethics. It asks questions like "What is morality in the first place," "Generally speaking, what makes an action wrong or right," "Is morality absolute?" 

For example, our culture tends to have three metaethical theories in mind when it talks about morality. The first, the one you usually see associated with conservatives. Wrong and right are objective features of the world, written laws in some book. For every moral question, there is a definite answer. It is, on this view, our duty to follow the law.

In contrast to this, there's a utilitarianism, by way of some muddled existentialism and romanticism, that holds that what is right is tied into happiness - specifically the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This usually takes some form of the maxim "do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt others" - though often phrased in more nuanced ways. This view is usually also mixed in with a relativism that holds morality to have no absolutes. Of course, that isn't necessarily the case, and most hold at least the "no harm" maxim to be an absolute.  

Finally, there's those out there who are simply metaethical nihilists. There is no morality, no right and wrong, not even any harm principle. One make act morally, but it's simply out of convenience. 

Unfortunately, the fact that most people don't think about metaethics can also lead to a lot of confusion. Those in the first category, for example, will often confuse those who hold to the harm principle with nihilists, thinking them to literally have no morals.

And actually, those in the second camp sometimes make a similar mistake. Namely, they come to think that morality is only what the other side is talking about - a code of specific rights and wrongs, and they conclude that that's really a matter of personal choice (thus "morality is a matter of personal choice"). The actual utilitarian morality they hold to isn't thought by them to be morality at all, but simply a fact. 

There are actually been quite a few other metaethical theories of importance, among them contractualism and virtue ethics. The latter of the two may actually get discussion in an upcoming post, because it's at the very least historically important. For now though, I just wanted to outline the field of metaethics, and lay out what seem to be the two most dominate views today. I also hope this might get you thinking about what metaethical assumptions you might be making - both about yourself and about those with whom you disagree. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Philosophy: Asking the Wrong Questions (About Homosexuality)

When faced with a difficult philosophical quandary, it is often important to investigate whether or not the right question is even being asked. All too often, it seems to happen that two sides of a debate end up talking past each other, or arguing on an issue that isn’t actually relevant to the question at hand.

One such irrelevant questions has become central in the debate about homosexuality in the public sphere – whether or not homosexuality is “natural.” By natural, I take most people to mean genetically determined, while the opposite camp would call it a choice.

But what are we trying to get at here? There is, of course, a purely scientific question of whether or not homosexuality is genetic, but that is not the question as it appears in public debate. Rather, it seems to me clear that what is being investigated is of a moral nature. In the end, what people are fighting about is whether homosexuality is wrong or right.

Given that this is really what the debate is, the question arises – is the genetic “naturalness” of homosexuality even relevant? It seems to me that both sides of the issue have assumed it is, but might they be making a mistake?

There are many “natural” things most people would still judge to be wrong. There are genetic diseases, for example, and it even seems that there are born sociopaths. Both of these things are genetically “natural” and both are things we would eliminate given the chance.

Conversely, many “unnatural” things are quite good. I think, for one, that most Americans think government is ultimately a good thing , yet government could hardly be called natural, and a cure for cancer, if we developed one, would similarly be “unnatural.”

So, let us imagine homosexuality is, in fact, simply a matter of choice. Would the game be up? Would gay-rights activists throw up their arms in despair and admit they were wrong all along? Of course not, because the question of whether it is right or wrong still stands.

Or imagine the opposite case – homosexuality is proved to be genetic beyond any shadow of a doubt, so thoroughly that no one thinks it can be disputed. Again, those who oppose homosexuality would continue to do so, because the question of right would still not be answered.

I have mostly avoided this particular topic on my blog, and, for the most part, I plan on continuing this policy, as I’m not much of a fan of being flamed. However, I wanted to, without coming down on either side of the issue, air my thoughts on this confusion.

Thank you, and have a good night. 

Life: Sickness and Blagness

I'm sick. I can't sleep. So, naturally, my mind wanders to philosophy, and philosophy finds its way into the form of a blog. I've finally written a new post, and it will be up here shortly - it's on a nice controversial topic too.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Life: New Blog in the Sphere

Into the crowded world of the blogosphere enters another blog - that of my good friend Josh Charles. You can find it over at wordpress. On it he'll be featuring his poetry, as well as essays, and hopefully soon a better background. I hope you enjoy.

Life: Thinking About... Pretty Much Just Graduate School

Last time I wrote on this blog, which I realize was some time ago, I was preparing for midterms and thinking about graduate school. Well, midterms are obviously behind me, as are finals. I'm still thinking about graduate school though, including preparing myself for the dreaded GRE. Still, now that it's summer I should be able to keep this blog busy for a while.

For starters, here's a link to an article over at the Front Porch Republic that I found very interesting.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Life: Midterms and Thinking About Graduate School

So, its been a while since I've posted up about my life, so I thought I'd give a little blurb. Mostly, I'm working away at the coming midterms, with an essay due in Philosophy of Mind, and a big midterm test in Ancient Greek Religion.

In addition, I've added a few schools onto my potential graduate schools list - namely the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and St. Johns University here in the Ol' US of A. Both have amazing programs, and St Andrews now has perhaps the greatest living theologian - N.T. Wright - teaching there. Have to say I'm excited about the possibilities.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Review: Giving Church Another Chance

Late last year I read my pastor and Bishop Todd Hunter’s first book, Christianity Beyond Belief in which he argued for the importance of entering into God’s story and living as Christians not merely for cleansing from sin, but further for the sake of touching the lives of others with Christ’s love. That is, being a people set apart by God for the sake of the rest of the world, just as Israel was intended to be.

Recently, he released his second book, Giving Church Another Chance: Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices and it is a book well worth picking up. There is a large group in our society, even within Christianity, who have become disenchanted with church. Todd was one of these, he went through a “de-churched” phase, experimenting with various alternative forms of Christian worship, but then, at the end of this journey, he found himself as an Anglican Bishop. For those of you who don’t know, Anglicanism, which has its roots in the Church of England, is a high liturgical church, with bishops, priests, and formal organized prayers. What happened? Well, you’ll have to read the book to get the full story, but in short Todd discovered the role of the liturgical church as a tool for spiritual formation. He came to realize that church is not “what it’s about” but rather a place of spiritual refreshment for Christians, a center for our lives from which we go forth to bless the world.

I still have some of the problems I had with Christianity Beyond Belief, namely the stylistic simplicity (especially the use of quotations from The Message paraphrase of the Bible) but as before, I feel these aesthetic complaints do not reflect on the importance of the content.

Ultimately, I don’t think this book is as important as Surprised by Hope but it’s a wonderful tool for understanding Todd’s vision and I truly believe that the “re-practicing” of church advocated by Todd in this book should at the very least be examined by all Christians (especially the section on the Eucharist), but especially those who would tear down centuries of tradition on the basis of their own limited experience and personal interpretations of scripture.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Theology: Transhumanism

Utopianism takes many forms, the vast majority of them are quite disturbing,and Transhumanism certainly takes its place as one of the more troubling. The following article is a very interesting theological critique of Transhumanism and it also has a lot of interesting stuff in it about the importance of the physical in Christianity.

The Anti-Theology of the Body

Politics: Democracy and Progressivism

Very good interview by Mars Hill Audio about the effects of Progressivism on Democracy. The intro is a little long, but the interview itself is fantastic and there's a lot of stuff in here that applies to Distributivism/Communitarianism.

Mars Hill Interview on Democracy and Progressivism 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Philosophy: To Strive and Flourish

Earlier, I wrote a blog post in which I advocated for decentralized government, in order to counter the dangers of fanatical Utopianism. However, even if the dangers of a centralized Utopia could be countered, it might still not be the ideal, for it remains possible that a necessary component of human flourishing includes a necessary component of achieving flourishing for oneself, which is what I believe the anti-Utopian is getting at when they claim that humans need striving. In the sphere of the virtues, for example, justice might demand that the rich man care for widows and orphans who cannot care for themselves, but it is important that this is a decision of his will. The law could force the rich man to take this action, and this might externally look the same as the case of the one who chooses to care for them, but this justice would be part of the system and not part of the rich man’s life. Thus, he would not be flourishing as an individual, and the law might actually be preventing him from becoming a just man.

Similarly, a man eating food he did not earn does not get the maximum good available from the meal. Certainly, he is nourished, his basic physical need being cared for, but the benefit of the satisfaction of having earned the meal is missing. Ultimately, a hungry man unable to work might need to be fed from the proceeds of another man’s labor, but if a centralized power gives every man food they have not worked for, they have the satisfaction taken from them by default. Instead, it seems better if help comes from those in immediate contact with the hungry man, who can give him only the help he needs and, if possible, help him to stand on his own that he might achieve the fully flourishing life [1]. Since, as mentioned before, a real Utopia would be the best environment for human flourishing, even if that included striving, the best a centralized power could do to create Utopia would be to do nothing, instead leaving it to individuals and local communities.

At this point, it may be asked why I have included local communities and not simply left everything to the individual. After all, if achieving something for oneself is part of flourishing, doesn’t local community interfere in this just as much as central government? However, this is not the case. First, the community is sensitive to the needs of the individual. The work put into a meal is not the only important part of it, other factors such as its satisfaction of hunger are also extremely important. It is better for a man who cannot work to eat a meal he has not worked for, than for him to starve. Ultimately, a local community is better suited to know when he needs charity, and when he needs rehabilitation. Also, in most cases an individual contributes to his community in ways he cannot necessarily contribute to a centralized system, and these are often intangible. The sickly widow may be unable to labor for her bread, but may provide an important area of emotional support in her community. The awareness of this in herself and her community creates a sense of reciprocity and this in turn provides the missing component of satisfaction. As a centralized body is necessarily detached from individuals, it cannot operate in terms of such intangible benefits and thus the component of reciprocity is removed.

[1] I originally considered this idea earlier in my blog, but it was recently brought to my attention that it is explored in the Thomistic principle of subsidiarity. I have not yet had the chance to study into this, so the arguments for it are essentially my own.

Note: As with my last post, this one was taken largely from an essay which I wrote for school (the same essay as the last one in fact)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Politics: The Dangers of Utopia and the Boon of Inefficiency

It is my firm conviction, brought about by the observation of history, that the dreams of Utopians are far more likely to drag us to hell than to build a better world. From Hitler’s Reich to the terrorism of Bin Laden, many of histories greatest evils have come from the pursuit of the perfect world. Really, Utopianism is a kind of hate. It identifies what I see as the perfect state for human kind, it becomes intoxicated with that vision, and then it cannot help but make that the end of all action, and in so doing come to see any who stand in its way as monsters and sinners. We all hope for a better world, that is our nature, and it is a fine thing to strive for that world, to work at it with sweat and tears, and most of all with love. But, when we try and make that world, to forge it by power, to force it on others for their own good, then we become Utopians and we soon become monsters.

The temptation for the Utopian is the temptation to think that the best way to achieve the ideal human circumstances is through exercising the influence of some strong centralized power, most notably that of government. In general, this view seems to arise from the appeal of efficiency. Where a thousand local agencies might work at cross purposes, sabotaging the formation of Utopia, a single central organization can organize these efforts and thereby seemingly better achieve the goal. However, it is precisely this efficiency that makes the temptation to centralization a liability.

At its heart the problem is the limits of our own knowledge, which in turn leads to a deep moral concern. As is frequently mentioned by moral philosophers, there is a great diversity of moral codes present in the world, ranging, for example, from cultures which practice female circumcism to keep women in their “proper” place to those which view women as equal to men. This doesn’t actually, as some claim, lead to the conclusion that the moral ideal is relative, but it does seem to show that it is very easy to go astray. Mistakes in this area are bad on a local and individual level, leading to ruined lives, but they are devastating when made by a centralized power. It is here that the moral problem comes into to the picture, as in the historical case of Soviet Russia, whose attempt to create a Utopia based on their view of flourishing human life led to the deaths of millions, and to economic damage from which the country is still suffering.

Thus, precisely the inefficiency of local attempts to make the world ideal seem to actually make these the ideal case. It is important here to make a distinction between inefficiency and incompetency. Local efforts to build a better world will still ideally make a difference, only doing so more slowly. Those communities which properly understand the good will see their members flourish more, while those which don’t will ultimately run into far more problems. As other communities see the success of the flourishing locality over the others, this will encourage them to adopt similar practices. This is more piecemeal, but it avoids the devastating consequences possible when a mistake is made by centralized power.

This, I argue, is one of many justifications for the distributionist and communitarian state. We cannot afford to build a legal and economic system on the basis of a centralized power that will too easily be co-opted by the machinations of Utopians seeking to make the world a better place… at any cost. In the human world of limited perspective and moral failure, inefficiency is a boon, not a detriment.

Note: Much of what was written here was originally explored by me in a paper for my Metaethics class in the Fall of 2009 (and, hey, I got an A on it, so I must have done something right)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Politics: Distributivism, It's Probably Not What You Think It Is

Politics come up with me in conversation. I don't think I aim for it, but it just seems to happen (so does Religion... thankfully I also seem to have a flame dampener around me... most of the time). 

"I'm a distributivist," I tell them, and, almost inevitably, they think it's some kind of cute term for socialism. It isn't, indeed its quite distinct. Here's a definition, taken from the website of distinguished distributivist John C. M├ędaille. He's got quite a detailed "encyclopedia of distributivism" if you want to know more.
"an economic theory... [it]ts key tenet is that ownership of the means of production should be as widespread as possible rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few owners (Capitalism) or in the hands of state bureaucrats (Socialism)"
There's of course a lot more to the theory, and it's further tied (typically) to communitarian/localist politics, which hold that government power, as much as possible, should be widespread and distributed (see the connection?). There's many justifications for this view, some practical and others moral. I've talked about it a few times here before, and plan to say more about it in the future, but there's your basic definition.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Theology/Life: He is Risen!

Happy Easter! He is Risen!

Now, I know what at least some of you are probably thinking - Easter was yesterday genius, it's Monday. However, thankfully, that's actually not quite correct. You see, the traditional, liturgical churches divide up the year into a series of seasons, each structured around a part of the Christian story, each speaking to an important part of our journey as believers. The most famous of these seasons is probably Lent, or perhaps Advent (Christmas, though I doubt most people think of the season as a whole as a religious event). However, the whole year has its seasons, and Easter is a full season of its own, lasting from Easter Sunday until the Day of Ascension, as long as the season of Lent before it.

Easter is Lent's mirror. Lent is a time of mourning and reflection, a time of quite contemplation and fasting. As most of you know, it is traditional to give up something we love for Lent, it is an act of submission, a way of realigning oneself with God's story. Lent, Holy Week included, stands as the road to the cross, to the day when (as the wonderful song "In Christ Alone says" ) " in the ground His body lay/ Light of the world by darkness slain."

But Easter season stands on the other End of Christ's Passion, it is the celebration of life, of the fact that the Grave could not hold the King. What is more, Easter proclaims God's promise that He is making everything new, that one day the old order of things, of death, decay, oppression and sin, will pass away and be resurrected in Christ a glorious New Creation. This promise celebrates the goodness of what God has made, from the majestic mountains, to the simple things in life like chocolate, and, yes, even wine.

Because of this fact, N.T. Wright in his wonderful book Surprised by Hope suggests that we start a new tradition. Just as in Lent we gave things up, rejecting the old order of the world, in Easter we should, at least for that season, take up something new as an affirmation of the goodness of what God has made, and an anticipation of what is to come. Of course, this can be something you'd label "spiritual" like a special quite time for prayer, or a regular Bible reading schedule... but it doesn't have to be. The new thing can be a new hobby (maybe you might want to take up drawing like you've always wanted to), a new habit (greeting strangers on the street) or maybe even just learning to appreciate a form of art or food you've never before enjoyed.

Easter is a season of feasting, of celebration, so I challenge you, take up something new. Feast in the goodness of what God has made. I for one am taking up guitar, and I'm also going to let my friend try and infect me with his love of poetry.

Go live and flourish!

HE IS RISEN!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Life: Shifting Mind

It's interesting - I've been going back and labeling some of my older posts that don't currently have labels and I've noticed hos incredibly much my philosophy and especially my politics have shifted over the last couple of years. If for nothing else, that's a good reason to keep a blog.

Poetry: Babel

In my last post I mentioned that I hadn't written any poetry in a long time, with one exception. I figured I'd post that one up too. This one grew out of a random line that struck me (the one about building up Babel towers) and is definitely a first draft so I'd love comments. Also, I should mention, I was reading Byron when I wrote this. 

Babel 

The old and bloody king was slain
His fatted guts upon a field split
His subjects in their shallow graves were lain
And a great and noxious pyre lit

The rotten kingdom was laid low
Our mighty captain was made the lord
Done with war, we set aside the bow
As we into plowshares beat our swords

We gathered up the fallen stones
And melted down the enemies shields
With them we built up our homes
And soon began to work our fields

Never did we sing a mournful dearth
Nor the bells of sadness ring
Happily I plowed the earth
And joyous melodies would sing

My land became my only joy
As thoughts of war turned into dust


Then one day I walked alone
The fetch water from a new dug well
There I met a haggard crone
Her aspect hideous and fell

She told me these had been her husband’s lands
And of the ruin our war had made
She grappled me with pleading hands
and asked me that I lend her aid

Spitting in her face I cried
“How dare you mock our honest war,
I will not help you!” I replied
“you kingless and repulsive whore”

Cursed, she said that I would be
To visions of the future dream
And my eyes the hearts of people see
To understand their horrid scheme


Mocking I returned to hearth and home
Yet fell I into troubled sleep

I dreamed I saw my lord that day
Locked in battle with the wicked king
On and on they danced with feet of clay
With desperate cut and fearsome slashing

Yet at the end the king lay dead
His stomach parted by the blade
The crown my lord placed on his own head
And cried, “A new Kingdom is made”

Then I saw him sweep away the soldiers bones
And said “We shall have glory in our days”
And the cracked and fallen stones
He did a mighty city raise

But then the King’s wounds poured upon the sand
A terrible and crimson flood
That swept across my lord’s new land
Till it became a sea of blood

There I saw my lord’s young bride
Rutting the corpse upon the sanguine shore


Awakened now I go to walk the streets
And hear them say “How like the gods are we”
Boasting of their shallow feats
While they, the murderers, walk free

Young men in Lust’s poison loom
Kiss the women’s tarnished heads
Who with silk and sweet perfume
Draw  them to their husband’s beds

I see their shame and pride are now laid bare
How they, the damned, seek their own glory
While my blackened dreams make me aware
Of how the hollow men shall end their story

Seeing now, I tell them of their coming lot
Yet all my words their hearts deny
“Am I Cassandra that you hear me not?”
Out in the feted streets I cry

While up and up they build their Babel towers
and say “How like the gods are we”


All they’ve built shall fall to  dust and die
For all eternity, like great Ozymandias, to lie

Amidst the blood and rubble will I lay
My heart shall break like shattered clay

Writing: Some Poetry

Been a while since I've posted anything up here, but today I got struck randomly with an idea for a free form poem, and wrote it in the warm, lazy hours of the afternoon. I used to write a lot of poetry back in the day, but have been off of it for several years (with one exception). Nevertheless, I'm pretty happy with this one. I named this "Part One" because at some point I want to write one about the beauty of silence (this one is about its terror).

Silence, Part One

In the rift between the silence of your words
The blasting roar of ocean waves
Fills the gap between the stillness of your voice
With the pealing of a thunderous night

I ache to flee the booming madness
Of the breach between the quiet of your words
To find the light serenity,
Nuzzled in the comfort of your voice


Monday, March 1, 2010

Art: Steampunk Gentleman

Picture of my friend Nate as a Steampunk Gentleman.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art: Steampunk Inventor

Yesterday I did this drawing of my friend Joshua Pelton in Adobe Illustrator




























Oh, and by the way, converting from Vector without loosing crazy resolution is way too difficult.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Art: Shopping Some Aliens

So, over the weekend I decided to dust of the old Photoshop and do my interpretation of what Tali'Zorah from the Mass Effect universe would look like with her mask off. Most interpretations I've seen of her have looked like Night Elves from World of Warcraft, and I wasn't happy with them.

First, this is Tali as she appears in the game:















Then, here is my interpretations of her. I initially made the versions of her with the hood up and the hood down with hair, but a lot of people haven't liked the hood down one, so I also made the third without hair by removing the hair layer.





In order to make the image, I took photographs from 4 different faces (including Liz Sroka, the voice actress for Tali) and combined them together. I then did some liquification (mainly to the ear), and finally used baboon cheeks and polar bear fur to add on the blue patches and hair.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life: Dang Furries

I recently finished my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2. I’ve long been a fan of Bioware (almost every single one of their games is on my “favorites of all time” list) and the Mass Effect series is one of their best. Anyway, among the companions available in the Mass Effect games is an alien girl by the name of Tali’Zorah, she’s one of my favorite characters in both games, I was glad she was a romance option in the second game (I won’t lie, I shipped for Tali in game). But this… this is just creepy…

…really, really creepy.


From the official Mass Effect 2 forums Tali Fan Thread:
We often speak of Tali and our fan enthusiasm towards her as though it
were a sect; the truth may not be too far off that description. Stated
in short, concise terms: We've become a movement. Each day the
self-declared "Talimancers" return, many of us familiar faces and some
new. Our exuberance and devotion to this place does not appear to be
dimming as the days go by - quite the contrary. And it is not because
of this place. No, it's because of what has been unleashed by the
creation of Tali'Zorah vas Normandy as a character. I trust we are all
painfully aware that she is not a living, breathing entity as we have
come to understand such. She has become an ideal; her spirit has
awakened something that has lain dormant deep inside many of us - each
of us either secretly aware that we craved something or perhaps going
through our daily routines unsure how to place our fingertips on it yet
instinctively aware that something is missing. Each of us share this
yearning to one degree or another and it is a shared commonality that
forges these bonds between us that have been strengthened over the past
few days. 

*involuntary shudder*

 P.S. I still hope she'll be a follower in Mass Effect 3 though

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Philosophy: Science Fiction as Commentary

(this post started out as an introduction to my review of Camouflage... and then just kept growing, so I decided to make it its own post)

Joe Haldeman is best known for his novels Forever War and Forever Peace, neither of which I have read. From what I understand, however, Forever War was a scathing commentary on the Vietnam War, thereby doing what science fiction does best - thinly discussing a critique on a current problem that everybody else is perfectly comfortable critiquing without the disguise (that is, when it is critiquing an old issue that everyone is perfectly comfortable talking about out in the open).

*sigh*

I actually think that science fiction can be quite good at critiquing issues that people don't feel comfortable talking about. On the other hand it seems that, at least in modern science fiction, people do a lot of disguising of things that don't need to be disguised, just so they can pat themselves on the back for having commented on a political issue. I think now, for example, of Battlestar Galactica, which did a commentary on the Iraq War when everyone was already opposed, or District 9 which commented on apartheid (what shall we do next, make a science fiction story that is a disguised portrait of how evil the Nazis were?).

Ultimately, I don't think science fiction has to be a commentary on anything, it can tell good stories and weave important myths. But, if you're going to use it as a vehicle for veiled social commentary, at least comment on something worthy of being veiled.

Thank you.

Book Review: Camouflage

Camouflage by Joe Haldeman
2005 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel 



My review of this will be short, because really I don't have that much to say. The basic premise involved to alien shapeshifters who had spent millions of years on Earth. So long, in fact, that both had forgotten their origins. In the near future, however, a team of scientists unearth an alien artifact that draws them both to it - the one because he is trying to discover his origins, the other because he is driven to kill any beings like him. 


 It was a fairly interesting set up, with aliens that were moderately alien in their psychology (though not enough so if you ask me). The pacing was also quite good, and I kept turning the pages waiting to find out who these aliens were, why they were on Earth, and why the one was driven to kill the other. There was too much of that modern science-fiction impulse to have frequent and pointless sex scenes. I find it all rather juvenile, but can look past it for a riveting story.


*SPOILER (mouse over to read)
Unfortunately, all that excited page turning went entirely unrewarded. The book ends with an anti-climactic battle between the two aliens, followed by the "good" one giving us exposition on who he is that only tells us information we (as the readers) already knew, and explaining that he doesn't know who the other alien is. Then he flies away.

That's it.



*END SPOILER*


This actually seems to be a chronic problem with science fiction writers. They're often brilliant at set up, but totally fall on their faces when it comes to execution.


Oh well.


Ultimately, Camouflage was neither particularly spectacular, nor entirely terrible, and so my concluding thoughts on the book are... "meh". 


Philosophy: Animal Experimentation

It's been some time now since I've published a blog, what with one thing and another (insert excuse here).  Regardless, the time has come for me to get back in the saddle, and ride valiantly into the bloggosphere. To start up, I thought I might begin with a light and cheerful subject - animal experimentation.

This quarter I've been taking a class on Rationality and Emotion, which includes lots of readings (mostly written by the teacher) that, among other things, talk about a variety of experiments done on animals in the area of cognitive research.

I'm not sure what I think of this.

Now, let me be clear, I think animals (and nature in general) should be treated with respect and cared for as much as possible, but I do not think they have priority over humans. As such, I really have no problem with experiments designed to, say, search for cures for cancer... or even for the common cold (though I do think we should do our very best to do as minimal damage in the process as possible).

On the other hand, I'm very strongly against experimentation for frivolities - makeup, for example. I don't think there's anything wrong with makeup per se, but I think it's terribly wrong to test makeup on animals to make sure it doesn't irritate eyes or cause blindness. If that's the cost, makeup can go (or, you know, we could just use the formulas we already have that work fine). 

But what about pure research? Certainly, such research is not a frivolity like makeup, but then neither is it directed towards any specific good. Some of the experiments I've read about recently have included creating lesions in bird brains to test if a certain cognitive function still worked, removing parts of monkey brains to find out where the anticipation response lies, and subjecting rats to painful electrical shocks to test how strong their curiosity is. At least on the face of it, this strikes me as unjustified cruelty, yet it's not as straight forward as the makeup case.

 For one thing, while such pure research is not directed at any sort of cure, it often results in accidental beneficial side effects. In testing what part of the brain controls a certain cognitive function, we may in fact discover how to restore that function in humans who have lost it.

I think, in general, I'm leaning towards thinking this sort of research is unethical, but I am certainly not totally decided. Thoughts?