Category Archives: philosophy

If Truth was Stranger than Fiction – Erasing Human Memories

Imagine a world you could take a snapshot of your brain, and then, after completing a task, you can then erase the memories of all the tasks completed. That is the concept behind the movie Paycheck.

With today’s technology and scientific advancements, this capability is not yet a reality; however, continuing advancements in the realm of neuropsychological studies, Ligand-Directed cell targeting, combined with the eccentric theories of a brilliant astrophysicist, that science fiction may someday be a reality.

I thought I would use this week’s University discussion to press our minds into the brink of reality. In doing so, please note, that while I am not claiming that we can erase memories with our current scientific knowledge, I am citing scientific studies and theoretical postulates that accrue support for my views that one day, it may be possible to erase memories.

In 2006, Mueller reviews the advancement of neurological studies for the underlying biology of memory formation, studies such as those being performed by Reissner, Shobe and Carew (Meuller, 2006). Regarding this study, Mueller states that “the demonstrated application of nodal analysis to a well investigated signaling pathway implicated in learning and memory elegantly demonstrates the potential to unravel complex molecular networks and to extract the essentials (Mueller, 2006).” Almost eight years prior, J.D.E. Gabrieli discussed the increasing capabilities of positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to help identify portions of the brain that were active during learning and retrieval of specific types of memory (1998). Additionally, a purview of 40 years of neuroscience will show the significant strides we continue to make in the field of neurological studies (Kandel, 2009).

 

As scientific knowledge and technology advances, it will only become easier to identify the areas of the brain where memories are created and stored.

Frank Tipler, in his book The Physics of Christianity postulates his theories of the future of humanity. His views, based on theories around the Bekenstein Bound, baryon-annihilation and quantum computing, states that he believes humans will eventually be able to download copies of themselves into Artificial Intelligence constructs (Tipler, 2007).

Papers (which I really don’t claim to understand) around Ligand-Directed gene and cell targeting, outlines our current and growing capabilities around being able to target and address substances that meet certain biological criteria (Hajitou, et al., 2006).

Bringing all these current theories and studies into a synthesis, I propose that someday in the future, we may be able to tag and identify the current state of our memory through neurobiological methods, or make an imprint of what our current brain structure is like, right down to the atoms and molecules (Tipler, 2007). Upon taking a copy, we can then learn new concepts (such as the super-secret patented recipe for Coke or Pepsi). After the completion of our learning, we can either use future Ligand-Directed tagging to identify and target for destruction the changes in our neurology, or we might just prefer to restore ourselves to a previous state.

Sometimes, truth can be stranger than fiction.

References

Gabrieli, J. D. (1998). Cognitive Neuroscience of Human Memory. Annual Review of Psychology, 87-115.

Hajitou, A., Trepel, M., Lilley, C., Soghomonyan, S., Alauddin, M., Marini , F., . . . Arap , W. (2006). A Hybrid vector for ligand-directed tumor targeting and molecular imaging. CELL, 385 – 398.

Kandel, E. (2009). The Biology of Memory: A Forty-Year Perspective. The Journal of Neuroscience, 12748-12756.

Mueller, U. (2006). Memory: Cellular and molecular networks. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 961 – 962.

Tipler, F. (2007). The Physics of Christianity. New York : Doubleday.

 

Symphony of Human Cognition

Some, like Freud, seem to imply that they adhere to no distinct worldview (Koltko-Rivera, 2004), but in my opinion that is like stating that there is no truth except that there is no truth. The denial of a worldview is the means by which one such as Freud defines his own personal worldview.

While others in attempting to define a worldview might define it in purely academic constructs, I hold with Nancy Pearcey when she states that a “worldview is not an abstract, academic concept… Instead, the term describes our search for answers to those intensely personal questions everyone must wrestle with – the cry of the human heart for purpose, meaning and a truth big enough to live by (Pearcey, 2005)”.

It does indeed seem that our worldviews are colored not only by our histories and by our experiences, but our biology and the methodology in which we examine, as through a lens, the world around us. Indeed my worldview around how individuals learn and think is driven by my own experience and expectations.

As outlined by W. Scott Terry (Terry, 2009), learning theorists often define four different approaches to learning theory: 1) Functional, 2) Behavioral, 3) Cognitive, and 4) Neuroscience. The functional approach examines how learning contributes to the survival of the organism. The behavioral approach outlines a cause-and-effect pattern. The cognitive approach discusses the semantics of how the brain codes and retrieves information, where-as the neuro-scientific approach examines how the physical biology of the brain may affect the patterns of storage and retrieval.

I must admit that my own experiential evidences and even my approach to learning suggest a strong correlation to the cognitive approach. I have strong personal evidences surrounding the capability to store and retrieve information based on external (i.e. environmental awareness) and internal (thoughts, feelings, past knowledge) influences. Couple my personal evidences with (or as a result of) past learning experiences focused on whole-brain learning and Neuro Linguistics espoused by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and I would say that I have a strong inclination to gravitate towards the idea that there is a methodology in how we code, store and retrieve information.

However, I cannot discount the validity of the other three learning theories. Indeed, functional, behavioral and neuro-scientific theories are all grounded in a posteriori knowledge that can be supported by reproducible evidences.

Thus, I would have to contend that it is incorrect to state that any one form of learning theory can supersede any other, and that with the obvious complexity of the human organism we must synthesize all forms of learning theories to reach the maximum capacity of the human mind.

 

References

Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2004). The Psychology of Worldviews. Review of General Psychology, 3-58.

Pearcey, N. (2005). Total Truth : Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Terry, W. S. (2009). Learning & Memory : Basic Principles, Processes, and Procedures. Boston: Pearson Education.

 

 

 

Deleting your Facebook account (again?)

 

A good friend just posted this as an important reminder to people on their privacy on Facebook; however, I think we must dig further into the problem to understand it.  Point being:  Facebook is not the problem.  Pop over and read this article, then come back and see what I have to say.

I deleted my Facebook account

Postman is still on my to read list along with a is for ox, once I finish the Gutenberg elegies, but I think our culture is far worse off than postman indicates, it is both Orwellian and Huxleyan to the extreme.

What people cannot forget is that it is not FBs fault, they are providing a service that is filling a void in the culture.

Deleting your Facebook account will accomplish nothing. Being conscious of how our consumerism is used against us and acting accordingly is more appropriate.

How many of us tag our restaurants, link the movie we just finished watching, follow our favorite author or sports team all on Facebook?

Now the real question is, how many of you do so remembering that every button you click, link you follow and picture you view is stored and sold to the highest bidder?

Understand that Facebook is facilitating what the mass is asking for, it is not stealing your data, you are willingly providing it because of the benefits you receive.

Boycotting, deleting or complaining is not going to do you a lick of good; being informed however and acting intelligently on that information is where you will find the most value.

In fact, if you do delete it, I’ll give you less than 6 months before you come back, as we are all slaves to our culture in one way or another.

Someone is always watching the watchers

[Short Snippet from this weeks course paper]

With the continued increase of the connectedness of humanity through the internet, coupled with the increase of opportunity to facilitate and hide malicious digital actions, the perpetration of digital crimes is on the rise. However, being that we are in a war against the criminals, and one in which we are rapidly losing ground; it seems all-to-appropriate to relinquish our reticent nature as the good-guys and look to examine ways in which we can fight fire with fire. Online Digital Forensic capabilities provides one of the means to increase our effectiveness through extending the reach of individuals with specialized skills, providing technological capabilities to analyze data in real time, and increasing the speed of data acquisition.

[However, this weeks course work reminded me eerily of] some of the central themes espoused by George Orwell in 1948 when he wrote his exceptional work titled 1984. Through this monumental work, Orwell describes a dystopian type world where there is physiological, psychological, and sociological paralysis brought on by the persistent concern that Big Brother is watching. I could not help but reminisce over the fears held by protagonist Winston that the Party would discover his thought crimes.

On-the-other-hand, as an individual who has been involved in some fashion or another, for over 15 years in the field of information security, I understand, full well, the importance of investigatory needs to protect the innocent from the guilty. These needs often require searching and viewing personal information that suspects believe to be private.

Yet, those of us involved in the societal war surrounding information security, those in a position of authority, and those whose responsibilities involve writing the laws that protect and serve, must not forget the adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin stating that those who give up their fundamental freedoms to obtain temporal safety deserve neither freedom, nor safety (Franklin & Franklin, 1818). And so we must remember that we are also consumers, and reside within the same economy of human existence as our suspects, and therefore, it is prudent to remember that someone is always watching the watchers.

References

Franklin, B., & Franklin, W. (1818). Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin. London: Henry Coulburn.

doubleplus doublethink from minitrue!

An interesting exercise in doublethink.

 

Nothing is true. Because we know that nothing is true cannot be true unless it is false, we can state that nothing is true is false. The opposite of untruth is truth; therefore to find the truth, we must find the opposite of the untruth. Because pure and base untruth cannot contain any truth, and because there is nothing more devoid of everything than nothing, in order to find the most pregnant opposite of nothing, we must find a word that incorporates nothing less than the total opposite of nothing, which is everything. Therefore because everything is the completed opposite of nothing, and because the most truth must be a complete opposite of the most untruth – then the truth to counteract the untruth that nothing is true is to argue that everything is true. Therefore, because we know that nothing is true is false, then everything is true is true.

What does a Code of Ethics Assume?

One primary assumption that needs to be made when defining a Code of Ethics is an assumption that people strive to find ways to agree about what is right or wrong, thus by implication, an assumption that there is a universal morality (either broadly or narrowly defined). This week, we can bring our course discussions full circle to where we started almost 8 weeks ago – that is, the idea behind a universal or moral framework.

 

A Code of Ethics is a set of core values set forth describing a series of appropriate or inappropriate actions one should or should not take towards another human being. As I discussed in an earlier post in this course, like the ideas put forth by C.S. Lewis in his books Mere Christianity and the Abolition of Man, appealing to someone’s sense of right or wrong in a code of ethics assumes that there is a standard in which people can agree upon what is indeed right and wrong, disagreeing on what is right or wrong shows with even stronger veracity an external standard being appealed to.

 

When I write a Code of Ethics that states “It is wrong to steal”, I am asserting, not only that I think that it is wrong to steal something that doesn’t belong to me, but I am asserting it is wrong for anyone to steal something that doesn’t belong to them, and I am appealing (if not just recommending) that the world would be a better place if everyone agreed.

 

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is going to agree that “it is wrong to steal”, some might feel that it is right to steal only in certain situations, or right to steal all the time, however, once again, to take a position of opposition, is ipso facto to assume that there is a universal moral framework that can be appealed to.

 

Whether formalized or not, all human beings have a Code of Ethics – How they believe they should treat people, and how they believe people should treat them. Thus, I posit this provides a safe assumption that deep down inside, all human beings understand there to be a true sense of right and wrong; otherwise to write a Code of Ethics is like a breath taken outside on a cold winter day: it may be there for everyone to see, but it’ll last but a second, and have no impact on affecting the surrounding world.

 

 

Information isn’t power… knowledge is power…

While some might say that “information is power”, I think it’s important to make a distinction between “information” and “knowledge”. While the dictionary defines Information as knowledge, I take exception to this definition.

Information is a term that is used to describe a piece of data or fact that hasn’t been applied or used; knowledge on the other hand is applied information. I make this distinction because I believe it is important to the conversation.

Information is potential power; knowledge is power. Information must be internalized, consumed and utilized for it to become truly powerful. This internalization, consumption and utilization this is the key to knowledge.

When a computer stores a piece of information inside of itself, it is just that: information; it is not appropriate to call the data stored inside a computer, knowledge; however, when I have stored a piece of information inside me, it is no longer just information, it is called knowledge.

I can pass this knowledge onto someone else; and in transit, I would refer to it as information; for example, I would say “Hey, I have some information for you!”, but once I have passed that information along, you now have internalized it and this information has become knowledge.

Information is agnostic to ownership; knowledge is fundamentally positioned as requiring ownership.

Therefore; in the context of power, I will state that information is only the potential power; knowledge is the true power.

Is bribery unethical? Well that Depends…

We were presented with the following circumstances in our Ethics & IT Course this week; strangely, so far, I am on the only one who felt that the company would not be wrong to offer this ‘bribe’.  Does this mean that my moral compass has been destroyed by years of working in the dark-side of information security; or does it mean that I have a more critical higher level of thinking than all my other classmates.

Here is the situation:

Company wants to expand into China; The area the company is moving into is controlled by local officials.  Research suggests that providing a ‘payoff’ to the official will all but guarantee the approval for permits, the lack of a ‘payoff’ all but guarantees that the company will be denied necessary permits.  Research shows that all other companies are proceeding by hiring a consultant to “get the job done in anyway possible”; so as to be able to sign disclosure stating they didn’t provide any ‘bribes’; the CEO of the company is concerned that this is unethical, and is concerned they will violate their company principle of integrity and honesty.

 

Here are my thoughts:

 

According to WikiPedia, Bribery, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient (WikiPedia, 2009). And while I am sure that much greater minds have wrestled with this thought; and an answer much more deserving of applaud has been provided; I will take a humble approach at explaining my views on this question of the morality of bribery.

This evening, I took my wife out to a restaurant we frequent a lot; I tipped the waitress well; as I know tipping well and being friendly affords some future luxury when it comes to making reservations and getting seats that we like. I do the same thing when I get a haircut; I give out Christmas bonuses to my Mail-person and to the sanitary workers that collect my trash. All because I know it’s a good feeling to be appreciated, and this small act of kindness will go a long way. In fact, my company does the same thing for me; they give me bonuses when I do good, and they shower benefits (like paid vacation, time off, retirement plans, 401k matches, etc) to encourage me to stay at the company and to work harder.

After a second trip to a third world country, I learned that the customs officers know and trust certain people that work in the airport; I’ve made friends with one of the guys and I tip him well; as a result; he helps move me right through customs without having to wait in a long line or have my stuff dug through. I have also had a friend who once experienced sitting in an Ethiopian airport for almost a week waiting to be released; because she was with a group of people whose leader refused to pay the official to let them go (apparently this unofficial payment was an expectation).

I know in some countries where I have done business it is standard procedures for officials to take payments for their services, above and beyond what the official payments are to the governmental office in which they work.

Apart from all of these anecdotal views of the question of bribery; we were also asked to comment on another organizations way of dealing with this same type of situation. Whenever the idea of bribery comes up, the first organization I think of is the United States Government. I always find it a bit ironic that while our country of the United States makes bribery illegal, our entire governmental legal process is built on bribery – except; it is given a more politically correct name: lobbying. And by changing the name, we can continue to condemn the act in other governments and other parts of the world that we so readily take part in ourselves. Strange, isn’t it?

So what really is a bribe? What are the moral restraints of bribery? When is bribery acceptable and when is it not. What makes a ‘bribe’ immoral or unethical?
I would offer the following simple guideline to determine when bribes (payments) are immoral or unethical:

  • Are the bribes being used to facilitate an action that is itself morally questionable or illegal
    • For example; bribing someone to look the other way while a law is broken

In the case presented in our course room for discussion; given the little bit of information provided; that is, this organization will be approved for their expansion if they lobby the zoning official, and they will likely be denied if they do not; the question of morality comes from, not the act of lobbying itself; but what is the purpose and reason for lobbying (I guess you could say it’s a teleological argument).

Does the organization have to lobby because the law states that they can’t expand for the protection of the people (pollution, environmental, etc), or is the lobbying merely an expedient way to get someone who is on good terms with the government to put in a good word for them to all but guarantee their approval.
From what I have read about this situation, this “payoff” as described sounds nothing more than a zoning fee exacted by local officials on top of any government fees already being subscribed to. There is nothing in the reading that provides a reasonable belief that the act of this “payoff” will lead to a violation of a moral or ethical principle; additionally, there is nothing in the values of the organization that stands against the question of paying fees to government officials to get work done in a fast and efficient manner.

<Some part of conversation omitted>

References
WikiPedia. (2009, August 06). Bribery. Retrieved August 13, 2009, from WikiPedia, the free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bribe

Plagiarize this!

Plagiarism is bad.

Do you know how many people I just plagiarized, by writing “Plagiarism is bad”?

I understand the idea behind plagiarism, and I agree that the intentional misrepresentation of the authorship of work is disreputable; however, I have to ask, in a day and age of digital communications, when has my exact thoughts not been thought of before, when have my exact words not been used?

As a poet, I think it may be easier (perhaps?) to pen a unique vision of the sublimity for any particular subject given the flourishing ability within language to use it in new and unique ways; however, when discussing in academia a common subject from a pragmatic perspective such as “breathing”, or “sailing”, or “bicycles”; it is hard to envision that after almost 6,000 years of spoken and written language, someone, somewhere hasn’t thought the same thing in the same way. So where do we stop?

In saying this, I can’t help but think that the increased use of tools such as online plagiarism scanners will cower creativity creating individuals scared to say single lines of prose without cross-referencing, annotating and indexing every single word.

Could you imagine the illegibility and annoyance of reading a paragraph such as this:

Stones are round (author, 1756). Stones can be used for shaping tools (another author, 1845). Stones can come in many different colors (third_author, 1935). Purple stones are often a type of stone called amethyst (scientist, 1878). Some stones are made up of compressed earth (again_another_author, 1967).

And yet, universities and academia have spread so much fear of reprisals around charges of plagiarism, that we, as students are almost afraid to open our mouths and speak, knowing that the very breath we expulse will exude, even unwittingly, plagiaristic tendencies.

Apart from all these concerns around the stifling of creativity and the fear of unknown and unexpected plagiarism accusations when the entirety of the world-wide-web becomes the standard in which plagiarism is judged; there is also the concern of privacy. Id Est: just what are these sites doing with my papers that I’m submitting? Are they keeping them, are they indexing them, are they annotating them, giving me credit for my combination of sentences that have never yet been seen? And if not, who is protecting my original cerebral outpouring from being plagiarized?

It was once said that “great minds assimilate” (and no, I couldn’t find any Google references to someone actually saying this, so please note, that this idea is mine now, make sure you reference me when using it in the future!). So in this future of watchers, great minds – I urge you to keep a notepad and pen handy and anytime and anywhere you hear an idea that sounds striking to you, do not hastily absorb it into your own thinking, for in fact, if at some point in the future, you find that you cannot remember where this novel idea came from in your own mind, to present it to anyone as an idea of your own will damn you to the hells of literary purgatory.

As for the idea of bettering the approach of checking all written documents against all world-wide-digital-media for any iota of a hint of possible plagiarism; my response is: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here (Alighieri, 1892).”

References

Alighieri, D. (1892). The Vision of Hell. London: Cassell & Company.

No standard for morals?

Should you argue about morality with someone that doesn’t believe in Morality?

if you ever meet up with someone who holds to the philosophical idea that we don’t really exist except in our mind (like the ideas of George Berkeley) – what point is there in even arguing (except for sophistry which is indeed fun).

In the same vein, if you find someone that doesn’t believe in a standard of morality they have nothing to offer in any discussions on morality, for all they can offer is the idea that there is no such thing as a standard for morality; which is indeed a statement of a standard for morality, and therefore it is self-defeating.

It’s like saying out loud "There is no such thing as sound"…