Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rationality and Morality

In much of popular culture, the solely rational creature has portrayed as a malevolent and amoral force. AI, composed of pure intellect, is often depicted as trying to eliminate humanity. The sociopath, deprived of human emotion but still with mental faculties intact, murders in cold blood. It must appear, then, that to be purely rational is to be amoral, or worse, immoral.

But is this really true ? I am inclined to believe otherwise, that a purely rational being would be more moral than a normal human.

First, it must be evident that rationality is a prerequisite for morality. A non-rational creature cannot be moral nor immoral. It may be wrong to kill another sentient being, but a tiger killing a human is at best a regretable affair. This is because there must some element of concious choice before any act can be considered moral or vice versa.

If rationality is indeed required for morality, is it then the sole basis for moral behavior ? Could it be that something else is required, for example, an innate human conscience ? I doubt this.

Arguably, conscience guides us in making moral decisions. It is a built-in and instinctive sense of morality. But, precisely because it is instinctive, conscience ceases to be either a sufficent qualifier of morality or even a neccessary condition of morality. In clearer terms, a person acting solely on the basis of conscience appears to be acting morally, but is internally no different from an animal or an automaton. For the same reason, I hold that conscience is not neccessary for moral behavior, since it does not contribute to the concious moral decision process.

Since I have accepted only rationality as a basis for morality, I must be prepared to defend this view from a number of attacks. One such attack is the egotist principle, which argues that to be rational is to pursue one's own interests. It would then be rational to betray moral considerations if one's interests can be maximised.

I would argue that it is irrational to betray morality, because in doing so one's self-interest is actually reduced. Although the betrayer gains from his departure from the moral, in doing so, by reciprocity, he is himself subject to the immoral/amoral depredations of others. It is inherently more rational to obey the moral laws and to live in a moral society.

Hence, I would conclude that a purely rational being would be more moral than a normal human.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Kingdomism and Animatism

Speciesism, as described by animal activists, is the prejudice against other beings on the sole basis of their species. Speciesism, as with racism or sexism, is wrong !

Unfortunately, while activists recognise the moral shakiness of speciesism, I am sad to say that they too are bigots ! Clearly, by favoring animals over other types of organisms, such as plants, fungi or unicellular colonies, they are committing an act of prejudice. To discriminate along taxonomic kingdoms is obviously Kingdomism ! We should respect the rights of all organisms, whether they are fungi or animals.

However, repecting all life is, in itself, still insufficent. Why should animate objects be valued over the inanimate ? Is this not Animatism ? Every object is an indispensable member of the universe, without which the universe would not be the same. We should value the natural order of things, and correspondingly treat inanimate objects with respect.

Respect everything !

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mobai Room and Others

Have you played "Crimson Room" before ? If so, then you may like to play Mobai Room, which is based on the same concept. It is a flash-based game where you have to find a way to escape from the room. Anyway Mobai Room is much easier than Crimson Room, so you should be able to escape in a couple of minutes at most.

Quaint Room, also in the same website, is harder than Mobai Room. My advice is to inspect your items carefully ! Otherwise you will spend much time searching for certain parts without which you cannot win the game (even if you can guess the secret to the room).

Swan Room is the hardest of the rooms. I'm still trying to solve it now.

Have fun playing these games !

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Monday, August 14, 2006

The Moral Matrix

Recently, I encountered an interesting quiz which attempts to measure your moral and political alignments. The long test of The Moral Matrix is actually rather accurate, at least according to my own experience.

After the long test, I was assessed to be the following :

Which is certainly not incorrect, since I consider myself a believer in the ideas of classical liberalism.

In anycase please do give the test a try. The experience should prove most informative. Be warned, though, that the server may be unstable at times - I was unable to access it yesterday (I was intending to blog about it yesterday).

A last point of interest - it is possible to see the aggregate results for Singaporeans who have taken the test. The results suggest that, at least for internet dwellers, there is little support for authoritarianism. Food for thought.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

An Exploration into the Nature of Faith

Warning : Religious people may find the following material offensive.

I would like to propose a hypothetical scenario to those of faith. Assuming that one day, the supreme deity of the faith materialised before you and commanded of you to "Disbelieve in the faith", what would be your reaction and subsequent response ?

To close any loopholes in the question, due to some deific force, it is absolutely certain that the deity is indeed who he/she/it appears to be. Futhermore the command was conveyed in similarly deific way such that the meaning was unambiguous - that it was an instruction for you to turn way from the faith.

Faced with this unusual circumstance, what would you do ? Continue believing in the faith despite the commands of the deity, or to obey the command and disbelieve ?

An Analysis

To ignore the command is to believe that one's own internal compass is somehow more accurate than divine instruction. By continuing to believe in the faith, this act ironically negates one's faith in the divine agency. In essence, this is similar to the bibical story of Abraham, who was instructed to sacrifice his son. Faith requires a complete confidence in the power of divine agency, even over what one believes to be right.

The second option, to disbelieve in the faith, seems logically inconsistent. It is the equivalent to saying "This statement is false". However, I find this statement inherently more favorable than the first. Indeed, if I was religious and faced with the above scenario, this is the choice I would choose.

The reason for my choice boils down to faith. As mentioned earlier, faith requires complete conviction. Faith, by its very nature, requires belief outside of known fact [this line I quote from Wikipedia]. Hence, even if the command was absolutely ridiculous, I would obey, since I have [assuming I was religious] placed my entire trust in the divine.

Faith requires much out of people. Which, of course, is why I do not believe.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Lying and Weakness

Why is lying bad ? Alternatively, why is lying immoral ?

I do not consider lying as being either bad or immoral. However, I do consider lying as perhaps an indicator of weakness (although not neccessarily in the person telling the lie).

In essense, when one lies, one uses the lie as a sort of manipulator to influence existing circumstances. Simply expressed, the lie becomes the means to a certain end. In fact, lies exist for no other purpose than to service that end. A lie cannot either exist idly without purpose or be an end in itself.

Yet, that is not my objection to lying. My objection lies in the fact that lying be taken as the means to the end. If deception is truly the only possible solution, then this implies a great weakness which tells that one is insufficent to effect the solution otherwise.

Perhaps some examples would be more enlightening. When you lie to another regarding your bankruptcy, the weakness underlying this is not only your poverty, but also the inability to accept this state of affairs, and the inability to accept the social stigma associated with it. When you lie to a child by giving a simple (but wrong) explanation to a complex event, this reflects an inabilty to teach as well as an inabilty to learn. When you tell a white lie, this indicates that the other party has some deficiency which disallows her from the truth.

I am inclined to believe that all lies are indicative of weaknesses - The man who does not lie out of necessity may be the strongest of us all.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Language and Thought

First there was thought, and then there was language. Language facilitates the exteriorization of thought, which is interior in nature. However, language, in serving this exterior function, is limited by thought, because ultimately it is only a subset of thought. Everything that can be expressed by language must have an originating cause-thought, whereas thoughts can exist independently in themselves.

And yet, often thought is seemingly constrained by language, as it appears to be in Nineteen Eighty Four, where the language of Newspeak serves to limit the formation of deviant ideas. Does this mean that certain thoughts cannot exist without a sufficiently developed language from which to manifest ? If this hypothesis is indeed accepted, then this means certain thoughts cannot exist independently in themselves.

I doubt that thoughts can be non-independent. Admittedly, thoughts can be hard to properly concieve in the absence of language, and indeed the presence of the correctly developed vocabulary would do wonders in the manifestation of ideas, which are vague at best. But even in these cases, language only serves to solidify and make visible the nascent spark of inspiration. Without language, thought still remains, misshapened and misty perhaps, but still present nevertheless.

In conclusion, simply, thought preceeds expression.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

How many Horses ?

Here is a picture I found on the net, drawn by a Steven M. Gardner . How many horses are there in the picture ? If the picture is too small you may want to click on it for a larger version.

An amazing picture, truly. It really gives your eyes an workout.

And no, the answer is NOT that there are two horses.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

An Analysis of Descent

Both the word descendant and its root, descent, appear to be normal and unremarkable words. Yet, on closer inspection, we can uncover some interesting ideas behind the words.

When we descend, we move down, or we fall. Implicit in this word is weakness, darkness, and the loss of power. Surely, descend cannot be a word with a positive connotation. Yet, to descend from also means that one is connected by blood to a predecessor.

To interpret from a unique perspective, descent implies a certain structure of power. In one sense, it imposes a sort of hierarchical order to society based upon seniority and age. Later generations would, being descendants, by default be positioned below previous generations in the scheme of power, authority, and respect. In essence, descent reflects the society which coined the word.

Another possible intepretation has more religious overtones. The tale of Adam and Eve tells us of original sin. What this means, then, is that all descendants are literally descending into the darkness. Hence, the word descent refers symbolically to the original fall from grace since Adam and Eve.

A last point of interest comes from a decidedly more scientific point of view. According to evolution, later generations are more likely to be fit than predecessor generations. Thus, later organisms have ascended the evolutionary ladder, becoming better in the process. Then, perhaps it would be more appropriate to reverse the naming convention to better reflect the gradual improvements across the generations.

Descent - perhaps not such a unremarkable word after all.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bidding Strategies For CORS

The time has come again for CORS module bidding ! Let us review some possible strategies for bidding.

Extremely Suicidal Strategy (AKA 0 MC workload strategy) :

1) Start bidding from round 3 onwards.
2) Choose any module that fits your timetable, and not refer to previous bidding info, and also ignore the current lowest / highest bid and other helpful statistics.
3) Bid 1 point after executing 2).
4) Go for modules like FNA1002X without 100000000 points in your account.
5) Win the bid for FNA1002X, then drop it. (WOOT 1000 points lost)

Pretty Lousy Strategy :

1) Place a good bid during the open phase, then totally ignore it.
2) Place bids ending with 9. Like 49, 99 etc.
3) Place a bid of 1 for modules which appear untaken. (And feel sad to be beaten by a bid of 2)

Good Bidding Strategy :

1) Place bids ending with 1, or 6. Like 51, 66, 101 etc.
2) Exception to rule 1 - always start with a minimum bid of 2.
3) Place a bid of 1 during the open phase if nobody has done so. This is to mislead competitors.
4) Be prepared to increase your bid during the closed phase.
5) Choose modules which are taught at strange times.
6) Always, if possible, utilize module preference exercises.

Evil Strategy (AKA get cursed by competitors strategy) :

1) Totally ignore the open phase, and bid only during the closed phase. This denies others of any information regarding your bid.
2) Place bids ending with 2 or 7. This is to beat relatively intelligent competitors. (Best part is, you can suan them by saying you beat them by 1 !)
3) Don't tell friends competitors what modules you are bidding for. If possible, discourage them from taking those modules !!!

Bo Liao Strategy (AKA got 5 allocated mods plan) :

1) Log in CORS to check bid points. Log out. Log in again. CORS hang.
2) Place an insane bid in a hot mod (all your bid points!) during open phase. During closed phase retract your bid.
3) Place an insane bid in a cold mod. Tell friends about the 'someone' who placed such an insane bid. Drop the bid later.
4) Jio friends to go out during bidding period.
5) Write bo liao posts about CORS bidding strategy.

The above advisory was written by TWL, who has spent no more than 1 bid point for any module during the previous 2 semesters. He is expected to continue this trend for at least 1 more semester. Incidentally, he likes the Bo Liao Strategy the most.

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Two views regarding the Public Transport Fare Hike

View One :

i) It is unreasonable to raise fares again, since there was already a hike last year.

ii) Futhermore, despite the previous hike, there has been no discernable improvement in bus frequencies and service quality.

iii) Another question worth raising is whether consumers should be made to shoulder the rising cost of fuel.

iv) Besides, although public transport has been corporatised, ultimately it is a public service. Hence, the desire for profit should be tempered with a concern for the public.

v) To expand upon the previous point, not only is public transport a public service, it is an essential and unsubstitutable public service. Quite simply, many, especially the poor, have no alternatives available. Raising fares would certainly, and greatly, affect the poor.

View Two :

i) The cost of fuel has been rising. It is unreasonable to expect the transport companies to absorb these costs alone.

ii) If increases in fuel costs were to be absorbed, this would definitely necessitate cost-cutting measures in other areas. Service quality would almost certainly be affected.

iii) Consumers desire improvements in service frequency and service quality. Consumers also desire increased fuel costs to be absorbed by the transport companies. Put together, these desires are contradictory. Something cannot come from nothing.

iv) Lastly, the fare increases are not large. A 2-cent per trip increase would, assuming 4 trips a day and 30 days a month, amount to a $2.40 additional monthly overlay. $2.40 is the price of a pack of chicken rice. Futhermore, student fares and concessions remain unaffected.

Pick whichever view you agree more with, but try not to ignore the other view. Also, try not to assimilate both views - that would be doublethink.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

To Demonise and To Humanise

How easy it is for us to demonise one another! For one, it is an extremely easy way to dismiss any and all arguments - "He is a Fundamentalist / Greenpeace Activist / PAP Minister / Communist / Atheist / Muslim / Human Rights Demonstrator / Gay / American , and hence his views should be dismissed."

You would believe that your opponent is someone unreasonable, or that he has ulterior motives. You would believe that against such an opponent, no peaceful recourse is possible, or that in fact they are deserving of such extreme measures. In essense, you are human, and they are not.

And they would probably think the same of you.

If we can demonise, surely, we can humanise. To humanise is to believe that our opponent is as much a human being as ourselves. Once we realise that fundamentally we are all human, we can take a step forward and begin to understand, rather than caricature, each other. This would lead to way to reconcilation rather than factionalization.

In short, believe the best in people.

Of course, this is no simple feat. We would need every bit of reason, of personal strength, and of faith in humanity, to overcome our inherent human baseness.


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