Wednesday, October 20, 2010

your morning of link-whoring

A few articles that have captured my attention of late:

1. Thanks to Dr. V, an article titled "A Natural Experiment in Political Economy" that manages, in only a couple hundred words, to take us from Sweden to Germany to the Korean peninsula, then back to the US for a comparative look at states like California and Texas. The article's purpose: to show that, on the grand scale, capitalism always produces better results for its people than more statist paradigms like communism. While this isn't an original sentiment, I was amazed at the author's ability to be both concise and comprehensive. Despite some unnecessary authorial snark (e.g., "ideology makes you stupid"-- a remark that can always be turned against its wielder), the article is worth your while.

2. An impressive blog post on William James and the notion of "sciousness" over at the eternally fascinating Conscious Entities. Excerpt:

Observation involves conscious attention, but in this case conscious attention is also the target. Necessarily then, there must be some splitting, some withdrawal from the target of observation; but then it ceases to be the conscious awareness we were trying to introspect. It’s like trying to tread on your own shadow. You end up, at best, observing not your real immediate self, but a kind of fake or ersatz thing, an idea of yourself which you have generated.

I’m not absolutely sure this argument is watertight. Comte supposes that in order to observe our own thoughts, we have to stop observing whatever we were contemplating before. If that’s so, is it a disaster? All it really means is that when we observe ourselves, we’ll find that we are currently observing ourselves. That’s circular alright, but I’m not sure it is necessarily disastrous. Moreover, can’t we think about more than one thing at once? Comte suggests that self-observation requires a kind of separation in the self, but aren’t we complex anyway, with several different layers and threads of thought often co-existing? Can’t it be that when we introspect we can observe the thoughts that were running along beforehand accompanied by a new meta level on which we’re watching the original thought and also watching ourselves watching? It sort of seems like that when I introspect – more like that than like bundles or gusts of breath in an empty head.

3. A post by my friend Nathan regarding the trial of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders and the larger question of "Islamic correctness." Excerpt:

The fundamental issue remains that separation of church and state. Western civilizational history is already replete with many hundreds of years of intellectual darkness, book-burnings, torture, murder, and war in the name of dominant religion. I hope we’ve learned better by now: religion is best left in the private sphere alone, in a place from which it may not dictate to others what they may or may not do.


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