The first principle for right conduct is to thoroughly convince yourself of this fact about the world, that is, that nothing can come to pass that is not natural and necessary. Look closely, unburden yourself of those ideas which grant you the powers of tyranny over the world and its natural order, and you shall observe a strangeness in things free from the ornaments of human designs. In parsimony you will free yourself from all evil. Look down to your hands. See how your fingers shuffle. What commands them? Convince yourself that it is not you, but a muse, some homunculus which stirs your passions and incites all joy and sorrow. Look closely into your mind and try to find what may be called self. A feeling of hunger perhaps, a fleeting rush of anxiety, a smell caught from the air, and all such ideas, some lingering for a time, others passing in incredible rapidity. But where in this am I?

There is no now, there is no I. Then do not fret about what tomorrow will bring, or what evil has befallen you. Stick to your own business, namely, doing good. Why is it my concern to be good? I do not know whether there is a tenable defense of moral goodness. But in my attempt I shall say that goodness by its nature is preferable to badness, since it seems to me that any being reasonably similar to us will want what is good for it and eschew what is bad. But a good action by the virtue of being good will make the person in question better, whereas a bad action will only serve to worsen a person. If we accept that a person is harmed by doing evil and bettered by doing good then, we see that it is preferable to want to be good. But that is my lowly defense.

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On the Nature of Time

…People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. – Einstein

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I’ve been troubled for a few years now about the nature of time. It is a question that has prodded me. We necessarily have phenomenological experience of time, when we sit and think, when we go about our day, in times of boredom or joy, but it remains ever furtive and quiet, never placing itself strictly in the mind’s eye. My first worry came when learning about special relativity, though its implications never quite struck me with the vivacity that they ought have. I was only awakened from my dogmatic slumber after reading Augustine’s Confessions, and there I learned that, if nothing else, there is something deeply disquieting about the nature of time that our common sense understanding does not quite grasp.

It seems that what time is is obvious, if not self-evident. It is a kind of river, that flows and I with it. As I pass down the river of time, events that are future become present, and events that are present escape to the past (or is it that the present ever moves forward?). The entire universe is subject to its continually changing force. At one moment I am now. I am typing these words, and this moment is present. Now as I move on to type these proceeding words, that moment is past. At just a moment before it was future. That moment, whatever it contained, of the clicks of the keyboard and the firing of neurons and transistors, is somehow different now than as it was present. All seems well—and yet there is something that troubles me even in this common description. The moment I subject time to analysis, as Augustine points out, I am no longer able to explain what it is, or even what I mean by it.

How can I measure a change in time? With a clock, you might answer, and growing tired of what is obvious. Yes, perhaps. When I measure the change in something, say distance, or viscosity, or temperature, I am referring to a change with respect to time. I can say that a spaceship moved a distance of 500 meters in 1 second. But when we think of time we think of it as changing in itself. That is, the future becomes the present which becomes the past (or some variation thereof). So the question I mean to ask then, is how can I measure the passage of time itself? or, how fast does time flow? If change is necessarily measured temporally, then to describe a change in time itself I must invoke time to describe the change that it experiences. I can say that time moves 1 second in 1 second, but that is tautological, and while true, it is also true that I eat 1 apple for every 1 apple that I eat. There can be no change at all without a change in time itself, for if the moment is eternally present, then nothing is coming into being or coming out of existence—everything simply is. Measuring change, it seems, is necessarily temporal, and so measuring a change in time itself seems to leave us with no way to measure it that isn’t meaningless.

And if I cannot measure the passage of time, then it seems I cannot measure what a moment is. I can say today is the present day. And I can further say that it is the present hour, 11 PM, and more it is the present minute and the present second. But when, exactly, does the present become the past, and the future the present? Is it somewhere in the thinnest slice of its second? If I were to devise a sieve, capable of parcing every part from a second, would I discover what we call the present moment? No matter how thin I slice, there will always be a moment of time yet thinner (or perhaps not, if there is some quantized limit), and so it seems every duration of time will include a moment present, but also a moment past and future as well. Then it seems when I talk about something being present, the rain falling on my roof for example, I cannot even define what I mean by present.

You may say that I am being too picky. We can say, for example, that an elephant is larger than a mouse, even though we have not measured them both down to their every atom. But the states of presentness, pastness, and futurity are different things entirely. I can measure length and be satisfied that the elephant is larger than the mouse by comparison. It is a relational truth dependent upon two observable determinations. And furthermore I can be satisfied on the metric that I used to make the comparison. What is a meter? It is about the length of the standard kept in the vault in Paris, or to get even more precise, it is the distance that light travels in a vacuum in a certain amount of time. But nowhere can I relate the moment of the present to another. A moment is found in no vault; nowhere can I point to an identifiable moment, and say with surety that one moment is not another. If I say that this very moment is present, how can I know that if I cannot even define what the present moment actually is? It would be very much like saying that this apple is A. Well what then is A? If I cannot tell you then how can I hold the truth that the apple is A if it is not a well defined property, distinguishable from properties that are not itself?

There is something odd about time that keeps slipping away from us as we try to ever approach it. No truth must be sacred, and any truth that falters in the face of introspection must be vigilantly attacked, until it bolsters itself through trial or falls as a conspirator. I no longer believe in the passage of time. I mean to say that the properties of past, present, and future, are not things that exist in the world. I believe they are psychological projections of my human mind, a way in which my mind organizes all of sensible experience.

The Eiffel Tower was not real in the year 399 BCE. That is to say, if you were to ask a woman in that time if such a structure existed, she would be speaking falsely if she replied yes. For something to be real, it seems, it must exist now.* If this were not the case, then in the year 2017 I could say that the conscious being of Socrates is real, and in the year 399 BCE, the Eiffel Tower is real as well. In such a world as this the past, present, and future become indistinguishable from one another, because what else is there to separate that which does exist from that did exist or that which will exist? So by definition, the past and future must be unreal, since they do not exist now (if they did exist now then they would be the present). Of course this means that the future and past are nonexistent. Augustine puts it succinctly, “Of these three divisions of time then, how can two, the past and the future, be, when the past no longer is and the future is not yet?” Speaking about the properties of something that does not exist is simply incoherent. A dog that does not exist necessarily has no properties. So if I tried to relate to you the color of this nonexistent dog, and its name, and the tricks that it can do, you would be right to call me mad. Then how can we speak of the properties of becoming and was being, if the future and past do not exist? And further, can something be born from nonexistence? I do not know. But if only nothing can come from nothing, then time could not pass from being future, to present, to past, since the future (which does not exist) would have to become the present (which does exist) and then just as quickly vanish into the past (which does not exist)—thus the passage of time is impossible.

* You may reply that something that is real is something that exists, did exist, or will exist. And so the fact that the past did exist, and the future will exist, makes them real. But I think this is a poor definition of what we mean when we say something is real. If in the past I was married to someone then at that moment the marriage is real. If in the present moment we are divorced, then the marriage is no longer real—it was, but no longer is. And besides the definition of real is not what is important—the existence of these states is what is. And it is simply incoherent to claim that the past and future exist. When we think of the past, we think of a moment of time that did exist, and the future as a moment of time that will exist. Saying that the past and future exist means that there would be no difference between them and the present, making the distinction meaningless. The only other option is to say that the future and past do not exist. But if past and future don’t exist, then only the present does, and there can be no change at all without a change in time itself, for if the moment is eternally present, then nothing is coming into or out of being—everything simply is.

An argument of this form was first presented by Parmenides, the pre-Socratic philosopher. The implication of the argument is that the passage of time is an incoherent idea. The past and future are nothing (they do not exist)—so how could we ever make sense of speaking about them? There are no properties of nothing, no generation of something from it or destruction of something out of it—it simply is not. Then it seems when we speak of the future and past we might as well be speaking of a squared circle or a triangle with four sides. I will admit, the idea that there is no change, that time does not flow, and thus everything exists as a perfect boundless existence, as Parmenides might say, is counter-intuitive, and I could not blame you for thinking it downright irresponsible.

It seems self-evident: the future becomes the present which becomes the past. But as we have just demonstrated, if the temporal properties (that is pastness, presentness, and futurity) are real, then ascribing them to events leads to contradictions, such as Socrates being both alive and not alive. The common response is that Socrates does not contain both of those properties at the same time, that is, that the temporal properties change with time. First he is not alive, then he is alive, then he is not again, all depending on the position of the ever-moving present. Even disregarding the fact that this has not addressed the main concern of the reality of the future and the past in themselves, let us accept it as it is. Imagine an event P, the death of Socrates for example, which occurred in 399 BCE. And let me utter the proposition, “P has occurred.” Obviously this statement is true at the time of this writing, but it is not true at other times. If someone had said “P has occurred” in 430 BCE, they would be speaking falsely. How then can we evaluate the truth of the statement P has occurred? Well, this statement is obviously contingent upon another truth, that is what the present time is. So P has occurred is true when P is a past event in the present time (a present time such as the year 2017). But the present time is ever changing, meaning that “P is a past event in the present time” is true now, but wasn’t always, and so we haven’t given a meaningful answer as to when P has occurred is true. So yet again we have another contingent truth, since the truth of “P is a past event in the present time” is dependent upon what the present is. Then we must now know when P is a past event in the present time is true, and we may say that it is true in the present. Saying P has occurred when it is past in the present in the present is tautological. We can keep qualifying by saying that it will be true in the present again, but nothing will come from it. We are left with an infinite regress. This means I can never truly evaluate the truth of a statement such as “the death of Socrates has occurred” or “the world will end” or “it is raining” with reference only to the propertied of past, present, and future. The only way to generate a meaningful truth from a statement such as P has occurred, is by locating the statement relationally, such as P has occurred is true after 399 BCE. By doing so, however, we are seemingly conceding that the temporal properties are not useful to describe when events actually occur. Using the properties of past, present, and future, never tells us anything meaningful about the world. It seems that anytime we try to describe time as dynamically changing, we end up with nonsense. An argument of this form was first proposed by J. Ellis McTaggart.

But thus far, you may rightfully argue, I’ve done nothing but play with philosopher’s toys, and given you no reason why these pedantic tricks should be believed over your own two eyes. The knowledge of time comes directly to us from our senses—our experience—you might counter. We experience the passage of time much in the same way that we experience a flower. To doubt the existence of time then is very much like doubting the existence of a flower, and really the entire world enduring beyond the self, leading us into a pit of solipsism. So while it is very possible that time does not exist beyond the self, it is as meaningless a point as the world not existing beyond the self, since both are fundamental to our understanding of any possible experience, and must be taken as a presupposition for any further inquiry to occur.

But do we really experience the passage of time? In the first place, since I can only ever directly experience a singular moment, a direct experience of the passage of time, that is the transitive flow of the past, present, and future, is seemingly impossible. What I mean is that, for example, if I see a petal falling from a flower, then at the moment that (C) the petal reaches the earth, the experience of (B) the petal falling in the air is now only a memory, and the experience of (A) the petal being attached to the stem is yet fainter. A direct experience of something must be made in the present (otherwise it is a reflection on a past experience or a prediction of a future one), but A, B, and C all occur at different times, meaning I never actually experience the events as nondiscrete. But, you may retort, as John Locke did, at the moment of C I reflect upon the past experiences of A and B and from this reflection on the train of ideas that flow in my mind I am able to experience the passage of time. This reflection on the passage of experiences is how I get the idea of one moment passing into another, and thus I am able to (although not directly) experience the passage of time (inductively, you might say). But there is a problem in this account. If you were truly a tabula rasa, and I put before you a series of events A, B, and C, you would have no reason to order the events in that particular order a priori. That is, unless you already had the innate ideas of the succession of events, and the passage of one moment into another. Without this your reflection could never reproduce a coherent and meaningful order of events, because C, B, A, and B, A, C, are just as plausible without temporal ideas already being furnished to the mind. What this means is that temporal ideas (such as succession, and duration, and passage) are not something I directly or even indirectly observe in the enduring world beyond the self—they are necessary to my understanding of the world as I recognize it. In other words, they are ideas born from my mind.

Where do these temporal ideas originate from, if not my experience? Immanuel Kant would argue that my idea of time is a form of experience. What this means is that time (and space, etc.) are not things that exist out there in the enduring world. Rather they are innate ideas, organizational principles, a way in which we as human beings impose order on the totality of sensible experience. Time is not found in experience because experience presupposes time. To Kant, reality is itself atemporal. Time does not exist, and it does not pass. Such a conclusion means that reality becomes unknowable. An undrawable veil is placed between the way we experience the world (the phenomenal) and the world in itself (the noumenal). No amount of physical or metaphysical inquiry will allow us to peek behind the veil, to know a truth in that realm, since our way of understanding the world is irreducibly mediated by the forms of experience, of time, space, material substance, causation, etc.

Kant stands in direct opposition to Newton (whom he admired). Newton built his system of natural laws with the assumption of absolute space and time. Space and time are the constructs of God, real things. If all material bodies were drained from the universe, there would still be a space, and time would flow just the same. This means that space and time are not human constructs or simple relations between two relative bodies. They are real, absolute entities in themselves.

Newton’s conception of time stands in direct opposition to Aristotle, who viewed time as a mere abstraction. Aristotelian time does not exist as such, but only as a way of measuring change. Newtonian time, in contrast, exists even if nothing changes. So not only can things be measured relative to clocks, and suns, and seasons, but there is some background substance—an absolute time—that flows equitably and magnanimously. Framed within these veridical entities of absolute space and time, Newton’s theory of motion was perhaps the most successful scientific theory in human history. It disposed with the two thousand years tradition of Aristotelian physics, and for two hundred years after it loomed to explain the entire universe in precise, predictable, mechanical laws—down to the last atom. But just as the grand unification of physics seemed to be inevitable, and all things were to become subject to Newton’s Laws, it was astonishingly toppled in the early twentieth century by Einstein and his Theory of Relativity.

Light is a kind of wave, that is it often exhibits wavelike properties. As such, many physicists of the nineteenth century expected that it must propagate through some medium, like ocean waves, or sound waves do. This permeating and invisible medium was called the luminiferous aether, after the Greek god of light, and it was something that could play the role of Newton’s absolute space. An aether, or something similar to it*, would be necessary to maintain a universe in which absolute concepts (of space, time, and motion), are meaningful. Newton, by positing absolute motion, proposes that a ball at rest is really different than a ball moving with constant velocity.** Not only are two objects in space located relationally, they are located absolutely—to space itself. But as Leibniz had pointed out, what is the observable difference between a universe at rest, and one where every object is moving five meters per second to the right? If the aether could be discovered, then it would lend meaning to such a distinction, and maintain Newton’s theory.

* Of course there are other things in which we could measure spatial location from, other than bodies themselves. One such thing would be the various fields that permeate the universe, for example the electric field. But the difference between the electric field and Newton’s absolute space is that absolute space is fixed and immovable, whereas the electric field fluctuates with a dependency on the bodies. If I am thinking about this correctly then, it would seem that these fields are also relative, since their existence is contingent.

** Imagine a universe in which a single object existed. Simply looking at the object would not tell you if it was in motion or at rest. But Newton believes that there is a real difference, that is, that the object is in motion or at rest with respect to the underlying space itself, the absolute space, even if we cannot detect its motion.

In 1887 Michelson and Morley discovered that the speed of light is constant, regardless of the motion of the source or the observer. This discovery was profound, and goes against our everyday intuition. If I toss a ball inside a moving train, I expect that the ball will travel with the velocity I imparted to it with the addition of the velocity of the train itself. So the speed of light being constant is very much like me throwing a ball on a train and the ball moving the same speed, regardless if the train is at rest, or moving fifty meters per second or a thousand. This discovery seems to undermine the aether theory. If light was a form of disturbance in a medium, we would expect its speed to vary with our motion through this medium. But it simply does not: the speed of light is constant. The Michelson-Morley experiment showed that light could not be used to establish the existence of an absolute space—if there was an aether, it remained undetectable. Einstein explained this result by proposing that light, and the rest of nature, do not care if you are at rest or in motion—when there is a difference, it is only relative. Thus absolute space was no more. Einstein tell us that the laws of nature (including the constancy of the speed of light) are the same for all observers, independent of one’s (constant) motion, meaning there really is no nonrelative difference between a rolling ball and a stationary one. This innocuous statement utterly alters our understanding of time.

To Newton time is absolute, meaning that it flows independent of any event or any change, and equitably for all things within the universe. Time then is something like a metaphysical clock. Where planetary orbits will vary and pendulums will err, time maintains a smooth constancy, perpetually ticking forward the same for all observers. This understanding of time cannot be correct if Einstein is right that the laws of nature are the same for all non-accelerating observers. Imagine you are sitting on a bench, and you are watching me pass by on a train. Then imagine that two lightning strikes, one striking the track a mile behind me (strike A), and one striking the track a mile ahead of me (strike B). You conclude, quite reasonably enough, that the strikes occurred simultaneously, since they were equidistant and reached your eyes at the same time. Myself being on the moving train, I do not agree with your conclusion. Since I am moving toward strike B, it reaches me first, and so I conclude that strike B was the first to land. In other words, strike A occurred in the past of strike B. You may meet me at the platform, and try to explain to me why I am confused in thinking that B occurred before A, when really they occurred at the same time, saying that since I was moving, my perspective of the situation was misled. But you cannot say that I was truly moving. You cannot say that you were the one truly at rest. Neither of our assessments about the events are privileged. Since there is no absolute space, there is no absolute motion, meaning neither of us can be said to be really moving or really at rest.

There is only motion relative to one another. There is no experiment that can be performed to tell us otherwise. In our day to day lives we arbitrarily assign the earth to be at rest, but we know that this is only that, arbitrary. Without any objective, absolute reference frame to delegate such disputes, we must conclude that simultaneity is relative as well. If there is no absolute simultaneity then there can be no absolute time, since what an individual’s “moment” consists of will be uniquely specified. Without an objective reference frame, we are equally justified in saying that our interpretation of the events is correct.

This means that the properties of presentness, and pastness and futurity, are also relative to each observer. To me strike A occurred in the past of strike B. This means that strike B, at the time of strike A, contains contradictory properties of both pastness and presentness (And to a third observer still could contain the property of futurity). An event cannot both be past and present, meaning that these temporal properties cannot be intrinsic to the event itself. This means that there is no real, objective state of past, present, or future that an event contains. Without these real states then, time cannot possibly pass through these properties, since they do not exist in the world or its events.* These states are only meaningful to a subjective observer. Without absolute simultaneity there is no real present moment, meaning there is no all-encompassing now, and what exactly we mean when we say time passes must be subject to scrutiny.

* I suppose that it is possible that time could still flow, but only relative to each observer. But this seems to me to be a much more complicated view than what special relativity implies, namely the block universe, which we will come to soon.

Relativity dispenses with the possibility of a real passage of time, independent of any one observer. But it does not interfere with our ordinary understanding of causality. If event A was caused by event B, it would never be permitted for an observer to witness event B coming before or simultaneous with A, no matter how much you played with reference frames. This means that temporal relations are preserved in relativity. In other words, even though there truly never was a present moment in which Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, it is still the case that first Shakespeare was born, then he wrote Hamlet, then he died. These facts are preserved in the scheme of relativity, even though the temporal properties are given up. So in this sense we must disagree with Parmenides a little bit—there does seem to be something to time. The relations between events do exist. But the temporal properties must be dispensed with. What kind of universe is this? Most philosophers refer to this as the block universe. Imagine the universe as being a block, with three dimensions of space and one of time (you can’t truly imagine it, so just try to imagine a 3-dimensional universe that you are standing outside of). Someone standing outside of this block would be able to see all events that had occurred, are occurring, or ever will occur. Only the point of the block universe is that there is no true difference between occurred, occurring, or will occur. The outside observer would not perceive the special moment that one could label the present. It would only observe all timelessly existing moments. Your birth, storied life, and death would appear, but attributing any directionality or precedence to the events would be entirely arbitrary, just like an astronaut looking down on earth assigning more significance to Houston than Boston. It could carve out different slices of space-time, seeing what observers in various reference frames would label as simultaneous events, but again there is no reason to give this reference frame precedence over any other. If I live in San Francisco it makes sense to label this position in 3-dimensional space as here, and New York as there. But for someone who lives in Vancouver, there here would be there, and there there would be San Francisco. One interpretation is not more real than the other. We can think of time, the fourth dimension, in the same way. My now is just that, my own, and other observers are not constrained to limit their now to mine. To impose my limited perspective on the totality of nature is hubris in the extreme.

Our senses are reliably deceptive. We must remember that the brain does not map the entirety of the world in perfect replication—nor was it intended to. The brain was forged in evolutionary fire; if a belief or organizational method of the mind, such as the passage of time, is conducive to my survival, then natural selection will favor its adoption. An understanding of the true nature of the world in itself is not necessary. Natural selection would have no reason to favor it.

The perception of the passage of time may be a phenomenon similar to the perception of color. Color does not exist out there. It is a way that my mind organizes sensible experience in a meaningful and useful way. No matter the vividness of a flower, we know that the color is not a property of the flower itself. It is a way in which my mind represents that particular form of external stimulus. Animals capable of perceiving color do so because it is useful. Perhaps the color will help them to avoid poisonous substances, or to find mates. Much in the same way, it is useful for animals to organize events spatiotemporally. Right now it is useful for me to perceive my immediate surroundings, namely this computer, these books, and the world outside my window. It is useful for me to plan what I will do when I return to the United States. A year ago it was useful for me to feel apprehensive about my exams. And you may think me hypocritical for not believing in a now or yesterday but having beliefs such as “now I am hungry” and “yesterday I went to teach.” But I think these beliefs are entirely self-consistent, because one is a matter of what is and the other is a matter of what is necessary. If humans did not have the ideas of “now I am hungry” or “tomorrow I must hunt,” then I don’t believe humans would have survived very long. It is simply the case that tensed beliefs are conducive to my survival, but this does not then entail that tensed beliefs reflect reality. It’s simply that a projection of dynamically changing time is indispensable to the type of beings that we are, and so I must represent myself and my actions and my beleifs as occurring now, or tomorrow, or yesterday, even if I don’t believe this representation reflects anything real.

In closing

Of course this could all be nonsense. Maybe philosophers should have stopped digging a long time ago and just accepted the prima facie truth of time. It is, after all, almost self-evident. But I don’t think almost self-evident is a good reason to stop searching for truth. And of course some people are resigned to accepting reality as our irreducible perception of it. But to me this seems to defeat the purpose of inquiry. Because, why then, am I seeking truth if it does not exist? The joy and wonder of this peculiar world would be rendered even more inexplicable, not less, if we say the world is merely our representation of it, because it would be near miraculous for such an enduring consensus to be reached if nothing was behind it. Just because we are incapable of perceiving the world beyond the mind’s mediation does not mean it is meaningless, superfluous, or nonexistent. It simply means that our knowledge of some things is stunted, and perhaps it will remain so forever. And I think that’s okay. As I sit here typing, I can’t help but feel amazed at all that is. Contemplating existence, and phenomena, and representation, it’s all pretty amazing.

Thanks to Adrian Bardon, whom I have borrowed much from his A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time. Other relevant books on the subject that you may enjoy are The Time Illusion by John Gribbin, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics by Immanuel Kant (much more digestible than Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason),  Confessions by Augustine, and the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Of course, my view on time is controversial. Some good books by physicists with opposing views include Time Reborn by Lee Smolin and Now: The Physics of Time by Richard Muller.

Eyes and Faces – a Short Story

“The weather is nice today, isn’t it?” a voice sprang from the adjoining room.

“It is,” replied a man, thin and hollow.

“Remind me to invite Susan and her daughters to our get-together tomorrow.”

“Will do,” said the man, staring through the window, jointed by old wood.

“Hun?”

“Yes?”

Did you hear me?”

“Yes.”

The voice was silent.

“Are the birds there today?” she came at last.

“Um, no. Not today.”

The snow outside was early and soft, and could have subdued the world into slumber if left as such. Paths of people glided through from the night before, and the marks were so preserved that one might be able to glean their maker’s intention if a serious study were undertaken. But the man was not so inclined. In fact, his inclination was hardly intent upon anything, more secure vacillating between events lacking time or action, let alone the motives of shadows from the night before.

The tree outside, melded with the white snow, partially obscured by the wooden joints of the window, was old, older than him. This old tree, immovable and absolute, with the bark and grooves shooting up into its withering fingertips, with phantom birds and earth-dissolved leaves, had planted itself in the man’s brain, stood and reached outward, and there it cracked and moaned.

“Do you remember the time…”

The man coughed. “Huh?”

“I said,” she returned gently, “do you remember the time you and I went to the see the show Danny and the Deep Blue Sea?”

The man thought.

The woman waited, then continued, “We had been dating for about a year at that point. Remember Bill and Megan just had a daughter, and it was Danny.”

The man thought some more. His brow sunk, his face concerned. The faint impressions were frustrating—the hints they left were suggestive and cruel.

“Anyway, we get to the show and you tell me how pretty I look. I thought you were just being flattering and wanting to say something nice. But you kept looking at me, and I could see it in your eyes.

“I was too distracted to enjoy the show, but if I remember correctly, it was decent. But we exit, rather contently. And I knew, because of your eyes.”

A stage with blinding lights and surreal pots and kitchenware and breakfast plates, with the strut and sway of actors, and the crowded darkness of seats and people’s legs jutting from them—these ghosts damned his apprehension.

“That was the night you proposed to me.”

The woman was his wife. She was standing in the kitchen. Susan was their friend. He gathered that now. But had he really been married? In the endless extent of infinity, was their no moment, or even fragment of a moment, over which he had dominion? Was there not a single day or person willing to humor his recollection?

“I… I don’t remember. Maybe I just need some time.” Embarrassment seeped into him. He was new, and vulnerable. He thought about what a contemptible burden he must be.

“That’s okay. The best part of forgetting is remembering.”

The man sat awhile. The woman moved through the house. He scurried through his defective mind.

At last he found something tangible. “Do you remember the story of Jacob wrestling with God?” he asked.

“Yes… I remember. To claim the name of Israel.”

“And when day broke Jacob asked the shadow its name, and it replied, ‘Why do you wish to know my name?’”

“Yes. That’s what he said,” she returned, almost certainly with a smile. “You remember.”

The old man could cry. His bones were hollow. His jaw and gut had a force their own. He wished to see her face.

“Should I invite Grace for tomorrow?” continued the woman. “We haven’t seen her in such a while, but that girl never returns my calls anymore.”

Was Grace his daughter?

“Yes… yes. Let’s.”

“Okay, but you have to remind me. My memory ain’t what it used to be either.”

He yearned to see the woman’s face. Whom was it that he had married? Was she keen and wide-eyed? Or was she tender with a curled smile? Would her memory rush forth and reproach him for his forgetfulness, or would she have the face of a stranger, the curve and symmetry of which would take an age to master? And soon the world would end and consume him, his identity would vanish, the woman and her eyes and her face would perish too. Each thought would be plucked from his mind, and every event he spurred or witnessed would acquiesce. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was. He would beg for her forgiveness. He shot up and left his window crying but excited, looking for the woman, to know her eyes and face once more, for the first and the last time.

 

Projectiles Subject to Air Resistance

Let us have a projectile that is subject to two forces, the force of gravity w, and the resistive force of air f, as in Figure 1. If v is much less than the speed of sound, we may approximate f to be

1

where f(v) = bv + cv^2, and b and c are constants dependent on the object and the medium. (In text I will represent vectors as boldface and in my handwriting I have represented vectors in blue.)

fig1.JPG

Figure 1. An object with velocity v is subject to forces f and w.

The first term of f(v) arises from the viscosity of the medium and is known as linear drag f_lin. The second term arises from the projectile having to accelerate the particles within the medium and is known as the quadratic drag  f_quad. Often, one of the two terms may be neglected to simplify calculation. Large objects (such as a baseball) can often be treated solely as quadratic, whereas smaller objects (such as a Millikan oildrop), or objects in a very viscous medium, are often treated linearly. When this is appropriate can be determined from the ratio f_quad/f_lin (or see the Reynolds number).

Projectile Subject to Linear Air Resistance

If we neglect the quadratic term, we find that the equation of motion for our projectile may be written as

2.JPG

Writing r” as v’, we find the equation of motion to take on the form of a linear first order ordinary differential equation (linear because none of the v‘s are raised to a power, first order because the highest derivative involved is the first, and ordinary, as opposed to partial, because v depends only on t)

3.JPG

Using ordinary Cartesian coordinates, we may resolve the ODE into its x and y components

45.JPG

These differential equations are uncoupled (meaning the v_x equation—the variable we are solving for—does not involve v_y, and the v_y equation—the other variable we are solving for—does not involve v_x). This means we can solve the two equations independently then simply glue them together when it’s all said and done.

Horizontal Motion with Linear Drag

Keeping our glue technique in mind, let us first solve equation 4. We may note that v_x’ = dv_x/dt. Using the method of separation of variables then, we can write the equation as

5b.JPG

Integrating both sides (and noting that v_x(0) = v_x0) we find

6.JPG

where tau = m/b.

The object’s speed then decreases exponentially, and as t goes to ∞, v_x approaches 0.

To find the object’s (horizontal) position as a function of time, we simply integrate the velocity equation, with limits of integration t’ = 0 to t’ = t (t’ being a dummy variable). We find

6b7.JPG

where x_∞ = v_x0*tau is the value that x approaches as t goes to ∞.

Vertical Motion with Linear Drag

Let us now turn our attention to equation 5. As gravity continually causes the object to accelerate downward, the velocity will increase downward, and as such so will the drag in the upward direction. If allowed to fall long enough then, there will come a time when the force of gravity will be equal in magnitude to the force of drag. At this time, F_net = a = 0, and we find the terminal velocity v_ter = mg/b.

Rewriting equation 5 as to involve v_ter, we find

7b.JPG

Then using a U-sub, u = v_y – v_ter, we can solve for v_y using the same method of separation of variables. Simplifying, we find

8.JPG

Just as with the horizontal equation, we integrate v_y(t) to find y(t).

9.JPG

To generalize to the 2-dimensional case all we must do is glue the two solutions together. We can find y explicitly as a function of x, or leave x and y as parametric equations of t. Expanding to 3-dimensions is also simple. We simply define the third dimension z, and the equation of motion becomes m*v_z’ = -b*v_z, which is the same general form as the x equation.

Various plots (using Mathematica) are shown below.

lin.JPG

 

Figure 2. A projectile moving through a linear medium (blue, equations 7 and 9), and the same object moving through a vacuum (red).

3d2.JPG

Figure 3. An object is dropped in 3-dimensions from an initial height in a linear medium.

Projectile Subject to Quadratic Air Resistance

A cannonball is much more aptly approximated by the quadratic drag

9b.JPG

An object traveling solely in the horizontal direction, or, an object traveling solely in the vertical direction, do indeed have analytic solutions (given by equations 10 and 11, and 12 and 13, as you’re encouraged to check using methods similar to the linear case).

1013.JPG

But an object subject to quadratic drag traveling in 2 dimensions does not have an analytic solution, and thus must be solved by numerical approximations. The quadratic case consists of coupled differential equations, and thus the method we used of simply gluing the solutions together at the end of it all would be erroneous in this case. Writing mr” as as mv’, we find

14.JPG

The crucial difference this time around is that v is no longer linear. This complicates things considerably, since the theory of nonlinear differential equations is more challenging than its linear counterpart (analytic solutions are harder to come by). We can resolve the equation into its horizontal and vertical components, noting that v^2 is the magnitude and therefore the sum of its components squared (the Pythagorean theorem).

15.JPG

Notice that these equations are obviously different than the equations when the object is traveling solely in one direction (the differential equations that lead to the solutions of 10 and 11, and 12 and 13). As mentioned, only numerical solutions are possible for 15, and thus a general solution is beyond reach. Particular solutions can be found numerically by setting the initial conditions x[0], y[0], x'[0], and y'[0].

 

Plots relevant to quadratic drag are provided below.

horquad.JPG

Figure 4. Plot made using equation 11. An object traveling horizontally subject to quadratic drag.

 

vyquad.JPG

Figure 5. Plot made using equation 12. As time increases, terminal velocity (the orange line) is approached.

 

yquad.JPG

Figure 6. Plot made using equation 13. An object travelling vertically subject to quadratic drag.

 

2d quad.JPG

Figure 7. Plot made using numerical methods with coupled equations 15. An object traveling through a quadratic medium.

Closing

Thanks to John Taylor, whom I have outlined here from his Classical Mechanics. My Mathematica notebook is provided below for those interested. And sorry for any mistakes or lack of rigor, I was running through this pretty quickly. Peace!

Mathematica Notebook

Measuring Pressure in Cryogenic Systems with Piezoelectric Ceramics

Cell.png

Abstract:

We have developed a new method of measuring pressure in cryogenic systems by using piezoelectric ceramics as low temperature pressure sensors. The sensors work by the piezoelectric effect, where changes in pressure deform the piezoelectric material, producing a voltage that we are able to measure. We used piezoelectric PZT diaphragms. We found that the piezoelectric had a sensitivity of .87 +/- .02 Bar/Volt and a minimum responsiveness of .55 +/- .01 Bar at 77.4 K. Our sensor design however, was flawed, in that a leak made it impossible to maintain a constant pressure, especially at higher pressures. Future development of the sensor will focus on redesigning the cell as to eliminate the leak. Eventually we hope to use this method in measuring pressure gradients in solid helium by embedding the sensors in the solid.

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Professor’s Comments

Review

A Brief Treatise on the Moral Decay of America – an Appeal to Heaven

America, so built upon the cloud of the era of the Enlightenment, having as its pillars those virtues of liberty, and justice, and opportunity, though often has it shrunk from its form, never has it so more lacked in its participation as it does now. Though one could make the point, and rather astutely, that laws for three-fifths of men are more incorrigible than sound. So rather than talk about decay, as if this country were something once alive, and now only through dewy-eyes do we think it something corrupted and lesser, and mourn its old way, maybe we should say that, yes, from its onset has it been unsettling, and like something unnatural, or undead, giving off a fetid but unsure odor. But the point remains either way – America is morally bankrupt. And, though I could qualify every statement I make into obscurity, please allow just one more. This is not to single out America, and to say here is the fount and cause of all the world’s woes, for what I say here holds for many if not all of the world’s societies. It is to say that a society that holds the perpetuity of war as a thing common, that looks upon the corruption of its republic and does not think of the evil of empire, that uplifts the material and the corporeal and is abashed by the poor and the meek, no longer thinks of the welfare of its soul, or the thousand glimmering souls that form its whole. A society such as this is morally decayed. And here is the point: the only concern for you is the state of your soul. Everything else exists as a trifle. Soon you – and soon everything – will cease to exist. Then while we still have working hands and thinking minds, let us have ultimate concern for what is good, and for things that are not good, to make them so. We must then undertake a careful inquiry into the current state of our society.

The only moral society I have ever had the ability to think of is the liberal one. In such a society, each and every rational agent is assigned to them maximal liberty. This liberty stems simply from their very nature as rational beings. In a universe devoid of all things but myself, consisting simply of rivers, and fields, and trees, what is there to speak of of morality? Of rights? In such a universe I am absolutely free, of course, within the parameters of physics. Then let us add you to my universe. But it is no longer my universe, but ours. If we define a good action as one that gives you or I some benefit, and a bad action as one that does you or I some harm, though these definitions are simplistic, here we have some anterior morality. If to be moral is to do good acts, and if I wish to be moral, then certainly I should do good acts. And certainly if we were then to populate our universe with a thousand more, a few billion more even, then not much would change in what would make me moral, assuming the people who populate our world are reasonably similar to us. How then should we have our dealings with each other if we wish to be moral? To infringe upon the liberty of another is to cause them great grievance, and certainly causes them harm. For this fact, we should not infringe upon the innate rights of other rational beings. We must take liberty as our principle. This is because liberty is necessary for self-determination, for our choosing of our ends, and happiness is contingent upon our choosing of these ends. The addition of you and others to my universe, in conjunction with my wanting to be moral, has indeed limited my liberty. I have fewer choices of action than I did previously. But certainly the actions that I have lost are diminutive in the face of the things I have gained, namely, an understanding of mutual respect. This understanding of mutual respect allows me, and you as well, to seek our ends in relative peace, and this allows us a greater chance and variety of happiness. This sounds well, and necessary for any coexistence, but if we wish more than mere existence, it is hardly sufficient. If we wish to form a society, a cooperation among us, something that occurs naturally and fluidly, we need more.

It is both good and natural that we have a basis of equality. Do I, from the muck and ooze, suppose myself the better of my neighbor? I think not. Equality is justified by our participation in some form of rationality, and we could amend, in our shared capacity for suffering. Thus we must be equal – but in what way? Should all cobblers be judges then, and all dishwashers doctors? To think so is certainly absurd, and could be argued as unfair, not taking into account individual effort, and merit. It is not the equality of ends that we should seek then, but the equality of opportunity. If I were born a dishwasher, I should, by equality, have the same opportunity as a person born to doctors to become a doctor. Any society that does not work to this end acts antagonistic to reason, for why should a person born of the right class, or skin, or sex, or religion, be more likely to affirm their ends than I? Simply, they should not. But work as we may, even in a great society there exists the unfortunate, the sick, the poor, and the ostracized. Is the moral society to look upon the tides of the downtrodden then, and do nothing? Some people think this way the most moral solution. They say, some with heavy hearts (though I contend how many), that yes, though I pity these poor souls and bid them happiness, I cannot, in all good conscience, think our society as a whole the responsible avenue to mend their misfortune. To do so would be to trample the liberty of the other members of our society, by stealing from them, and appropriating their labor to the disadvantaged. But as Rawls would ask us – how should we form our society? If we were to start our society from scratch, not knowing what role we would play in it, would any reasonable being bring form to such a chaos and sharpness? Would I, as a being expressing reason, form a feudal society, or an egalitarian one? Certainly the latter, because even if I am selfish, if I were dropped into one of the two at random (because as we hopefully agreed earlier, the attributes of class, sex, etc., are at their essence random, and thus should not determine my opportunity), I see that my chance of being happy in medieval England is certainly much lower than in modern-day Denmark. Thus any reasonable being must conclude that a society that maximizes liberty, that treats human welfare, that ameliorates the human condition, and seeks equality, is superior to the one that does not.

We have now seen, in the most fundamental and abbreviated way, what a society should be and do. It should maximize liberty, strive for equality, and have the upmost concern for the welfare of people. All justification for such properties stem from our reason and experience, and our wanting to be moral and good. And to this point, there is another question I shall deal with briefly, though it deserves to be examined at length in its own way, and this is, why should I want to be moral? After all, being immoral has great opportunity to bring me happiness in the form of some ill-gotten pleasures or riches. I would look to the great moral philosophers for greater reasoning against this thought, especially Plato in the Republic. But let it suffice to say for our purposes that since it seems to me that morality is based on a rational principle, this implies that whatever is good is also rational, and since rationality tells me what I should do, then I should always seek to be good. But let us now, like Plato, comparing the things of this world to the Forms of the other, take our society of today and hold it to the ideal. And if I should err in anyway, please do not accept it, but question me, and think for yourself.

Let us begin with what is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of our society, that is, its blatant disregard for human welfare. If humans are things to be valued by our wills, as Kant might say, that gleam like brilliant jewels, then it is the greatest tragedy to treat anyone as a means to an end, rather than as an end in themselves, or perhaps even as less, as refuse and a thing discarded. The good society then must always seek to promote human welfare. If we wish to look after human welfare, we should require that people do not have need of want. The want, of course, of the necessary resources for survival. Want is an unnecessary construct of the immoral society. Its persistence is a failure of reason and arises when confusion comes to the intuitive truth of equality. Let us then examine want, and make a proof of sorts, first of its presence, then of its evilness, and finally of its non-essentialness.

45 million Americans live in poverty – 15 million being children, or 20% of all children in the United States. Poverty being defined as an annual income threshold of ~$25,000 for a family of four. Most of these people – including 13 million children – do not have reliable access to a sufficient amount of food. 70% of Americans have less than a $1,000 in savings. Half of Americans make $30,000 or less. How could it be possible, in the richest country to ever grace the earth, that even a single child would have want? And how can it be, in the midst of amazing medical advancement, that tens of millions of Americans live without health care? 45,000 of which die every year because of their lack of coverage. And if they do receive help, then they shall live in the chains of debt. Why should it be that in a place with the greatest institutions of learning, there is in place a de facto and crippling penalty to seek education, and a collective trillion dollars placed on the backs of those who have desire to better themselves? And of those without homes, now numbering greater than half a million, is there not shelter enough in our towering lofts that touch the sky, and our homes so finely equipped? This is not a question of self-reliance, or of personal responsibility – for how should a child be self-reliant? And shall we assume that only those with means should be able to undergo surgery, or receive medicine? What of the rest then, the least of these – shall they live with sickness though they need not? Shall human beings live in rain and cold, and go hungry – though they need not? A society that allows children to go hungry and the sick to rot is no society at all; it is a wretched thing, a sad cadaver already past, an abomination that either need be mended or exorcised. To dress it up, and perhaps only mention its misdeeds in passing is to do your fellow man and woman a great disservice. For the patriots are long dead, their revolution ended. The tyranny of today exists not across an ocean, but in ourselves, who oppress the weak, and tax the poor, and seek to make tyrants of ourselves, who enjoy the complacency of lands born on those underfoot. The patriot of today then, does not wave a flag, in conceit and vainglory, but seeks to instruct, and make better those things which she finds to be tyrannical to her fellow man and woman. It is our duty, as citizens and as human beings, to mend the sick, and feed the poor, and help the less fortunate. This is not affectation, but virtue. And if these are virtues in a human, as they certainly are, then are they not too virtues in the society as a whole? Point to me then where these virtues are lost in the translation from the one to the whole, and I will give up my preaching. But if you cannot, we must continue, and it seems to me very quite manifest that these are the duties of our society, namely, taking care for the upholding of human welfare.

We have shown, hopefully, that want is certainly present, and since it is a detriment to human welfare, it is most certainly evil, but if it is necessary, meaning it would arise in every society no matter how we went about building it, then we must admit defeat, and accept want and all of its consequences, however much we would lament to do so. But it is my contention that want is, for a good part, avoidable. And allow me to clarify one point before we go about a proof. By want, I mean a want arising against one’s will. A society can do nothing (and indeed has no business doing anything) for someone who would choose to want, no matter how absurd that may sound. So let us forget this version and focus on the important one.

Let us imagine a society in which wheat, trees, and rivers were plentiful, so plentiful in fact, that no one could even find their natural end. If I live alone in such a universe, then want, by any means, does not exist for me. If I can reap the field, wield an axe, and carry a bucket, my needs as an animal are certainly satiated. And if I go about adding more people to my universe, a few billion more let’s say, we would see that want is still no where to be found, since anyone can garner resources (assuming all people have the ability to do so). Want of the most basic sort, it seems, is a function of scarcity then. Let us take as an example another universe consisting you and I and one single wheat field. Let us say that this wheat field only has the potential to feed one of us. In such a universe, want is an inherent feature of reality, because try as we may, there is only enough resources for one of us. To figure out if want is necessary then, we must figure out which sort of universe we inhabit. If resources are such that every individual person could meet their need, then it would seem that want is non-essential, and thus, with a directed aim, could be seriously mitigated. Of course, this is an empirical question. I would argue that there are in fact enough resources for many more people to meet their basic needs than actually happens today. By this I mean if we were to assign to each person (all 7 billion of them) one “bundle of resource,” then we could, with effort and patience, steadily increase our ratio toward one. In fact, it has been argued that there is currently enough food produced to feed anywhere from 7 to 10 billion people. But this point should not be construed to mean that such a fact will hold for all time. Indeed, a very Malthusian future awaits us if we allow the population to grow unchecked, allow technology to stagnate, and allow our limited resources to wither. Water, of course, is a different question. Water is a much more variable resource and it is difficult to tell in which of the two universes it consists. Potable water, I believe, is only about 1% of the total water on earth. But, even if we assume that certain resources, water among them, are indeed limited, we should no longer go about pretending that want is a function solely of scarcity. It is emphatically not. Want comes about, too, and perhaps primarily, as a consequence of poverty. Let us return to our bountiful universe with never-ending fields. Let me now become a tyrant to my brothers and sisters, and let me claim the fields and rivers and trees as belonging solely to me. If I prevent others from obtaining these resources, then what I have done is no different in consequence than what scarcity does in actuality. And in our world, poverty is often the tyrant which impedes the fields, and rivers, and trees. As Bernie Sanders has been no stranger to remind us, the top tenth of 1% own as much wealth as the bottom 90%. 62 people own more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion. This half of the world lives on 3 dollars a day. The divide between the haves and have-nots is a great gulf indeed. Want deriving from poverty, regardless of scarcity, is something that can be mitigated, simply, by treating the poverty, by lessening the inequality. Look now to what you have, friend. Look at the conceit and waste that consumes our society. We who live as kings and gods are nothing more than usurpers and tyrants to our fellow man. No moral justification can be made to explain away the starvation and enslavement of entire peoples as we waste and consume like debauchers. This is not to say that we are to blame for just eating and drinking and living. I would never blame anyone for that. But since I can easily imagine a universe in which you and I are just – or very nearly just – as happy as we are today, and at the same time want has been seriously diminished for those who exist wretchedly now, then certainly our inaction to engender such a universe leaves us with a moral culpability. The normalization of death, slavery, and poverty is the most serious illusion to be cast upon us. Such a society cannot persist and lay claim to any form of morality. To progress then, to a more noble state, we must work to dethrone want. True, we may never be able to erase all evil from this world. But we can certainly try – and do good where it is possible. Nothing prevents our attempt, besides perhaps our own moral cowardice. And to this end, want is avoided by reducing scarcity (through science, I suppose), and by reducing poverty (through politics or some other avenue, I would gather). If we wish to be good, we must work to conspire against want, and as a result, against scarcity and poverty, because want is antagonistic to human welfare, and as we have shown, the promotion of human welfare is essential to the good society.

Of course, even if every person on the earth were able to meet their most basic needs – of food, and water – we could still not qualify ours as the good society, and as such, I am not yet satisfied. As I mentioned earlier, there exists hundreds of thousands of people (just in the US) that do not have access to shelter. 50,000 of these homeless people are veterans. 1/4 are mentally ill. The amount of money spent on the US military’s (still behind schedule and failing) F-35 jet program could have housed every homeless person in America with a $600,000 home. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been funneled into this – one of untold many – superfluous and incompetent weapons program, filling the pockets of the weapons manufacturers, when it could have very seriously and easily improved the American society in a dramatic and unprecedented way. These are hundreds of billions of dollars that could have saved and altered hundreds of thousands of lives, by being spent on housing, medical and mental health, and drug programs. Instead they are aimed to further our decline.

But yet another serious deficiency requires our attention. This is the state of education in the United States. The United States ranks 17th out of 40 countries in educational performance. We rank 24th in literacy. We rank 2nd out of 14 in ignorance. And so on. Some may say that there is nothing we can do about it. There simply are not enough resources and avenues to improve its current state. Not surprisingly, this sentiment stems from ignorance. The stench of defeatism lingers long on those who cannot seek even bronze. Hundreds of billions of dollars squandered on a jet hardly known and barely functional should make us suspicious of what else we supposedly cannot do; and when we have sent a man to the moon, probed the atom, and seen creation in its infancy, I’ll hear nothing yet of what can and cannot be done. For $80 billion we could make college tuition-free. This could easily be funded by a diminutive tax on Wall St. speculation, a cut in military spending, a cut in corporate welfare, releasing nonviolent inmates, or any number of other black pits. The point is that our efforts need not be as futile as the mass bureaucracy of empire often instills in us. We can learn and make change if we direct and extend our effort. Goodness need not come at some hefty price. And if we wish to learn, we should see how our betters have overcome us, and accomplished so much. Finland ranks first in education, even though the United States and Finland spend the same amount of GDP on education. Why then do they sprint to the finish line (no pun intended) while we dally behind and barely manage to complete the task at hand? I won’t seek to solve all of education here, but I will give you this to think on. Finland places value on childhood – they understand that a child is not a machine, and thus do not perform tests on them until they are brainless oblivions. They place value in education as an institution, understanding its true merit as a proper investment, and as a moral imperative, and see clearly that it is not a thing to be bought and sold, but to be looked after by those with its best interest in mind. And they value the educator herself, as a professional deserving respect and rigor. Do we suppose that the education of the youth is something less vital than some menial task? Why then, should the teacher be valued less (and compensated severely less) than many another profession? The teacher deserves as much deference, indeed even more, than the banker, or the politician, or the doctor. Because although the doctor looks over the health of the body, the educator looks after the health of the soul, and this is a duty more sacred than the former. The responsibility of the teacher is great indeed. We must then ensure that the position of teacher be more rigorous, respected, and defined than even that of the doctor. The teacher of youth should be the most wise and good among us. So much in fact, that I would hope that not even I could have a place among them.

Having dealt with a few ways in which we could promote human welfare, let us turn to another failing in our society. Here now we should be unequivocal: the prime cause of our woeful state is, besides our own indifference, the evil influence that money has wrought over our republic. America is corrupt – let there be no murmuring to the contrary. To see evidence for this claim, look acutely at the political machinations that take place in America today so brazenly, and openly, and without even thought to shame or reproach. Please, I really do implore you, look to what Washington has become, and I ask you not as a demagogue, but as a fellow citizen who is concerned with the state of our republic. Look at the festering legions of lobbyists, who hover about Washington, and with bloated pockets whisper so intently into the huddled ears of lawmakers, spending 2 billion dollars a year in Washington. And what shall we say of Super PACs, and the financing of our elections? Can there be any serious man upon the earth who can look at the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and say, with integrity and all seriousness, that allowing the wealthiest people and the largest corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns is a good and healthy act of democracy? Or can anyone view Buckley v. Valeo, and accept the fact that money is a form of speech, and not see the immediate consequence that the richest people have the largest say in things? Money has no place in a free republic. Look to every failed society and notice that if it failed from within, it is because the powerful grew corrupt, and let the sun of all public servants – the common good – be blocked out by multifarious desire.

Let us take one thought experiment to see the effects of money in the political system. Imagine me to be a lawmaker running for office; it’s not too important which office, only that I have an influence on which laws will be written. Let us imagine also that the society that I inhabit is similar to ours. A corporation that manufactures chemicals for cleaning solutions, let’s say, runs a factory by a river, and as it stands now, it is illegal for them to dump runoff into this river. A lobbyist of theirs expresses to me their distaste for such restrictive regulations. If me and this lobbyist happen to get along, perhaps over lunch (maybe he finds my jokes amusing), he is willing to donate to my campaign, or offer me a position after my term, or some other reward. The egregious nature of such a system should be clear. This is the nature of our society today. It does not matter if it is a chemical manufacturer, or a bank, or a maker of cheese. It does not matter if what is sought is the loosening of regulation, the lowering of taxes, or some other benefit. Perverse incentive will ultimately engender perverse outcomes. As we have shown, the good society should always seek to benefit human welfare. Thus, the lawmaker should seek always to benefit the public good, or generally, human welfare, but: Ye cannot serve God and mammon. The way our laws have been slowly manufactured in the last century have created a clear conflict of interest between what is right and what is lucrative. This contradictory structure has steadily tilted our republic away from serving the common good. Now the structure is so twisted that it is near to snap. The corruption is curdling.

People spend money in order to acquire something they desire, or at least think they desire. The meticulous nature of corporations make them particularly partial to such a truth. It follows then that people spend money in the political system in order that the person whom they elect (the financiers do in fact appoint our lawmakers, broadly assuming causation – 90% of elections are won by the candidate who has the most money) will later favor them in some manner. This is bribery. No other word exists to more clearly define such an act. This is bribery by the unfathomable influence of billions of dollars. Examples exist in nearly every so-called public servant. Look at former governor of Pennsylvania Tom Corbett who took millions of dollars from energy giants, and yet denies that this had anything to do with his pro-fracking stance. Look at the entirety of the Republican Party, as it denies climate change and just so happens to take millions from oil companies. Look at President Donald Trump (truly, we are doomed) who openly admits of his own part in the system of corruption, and has appointed the likes of former Exxon Mobile and Goldman Sachs titans to his administration. Look at how many politicians have received “donations” from Goldman Sachs, highest among them being Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and a litany of others. Dianne Feinstein takes money from PG&E. Tom Cotton from Koch Industries. Paul Ryan from Pfizer. Et cetera, et cetera. Truly, I could go on all day. The corruption is systemic and pervasive. It encourages the perverse incentive to betray the common good. It encourages the growing participation and influence of the wealthy few, and the apathy of the disillusioned many, furthering our decline into a state of oligarchy.

But who sits in our jails today? Is it the corrupt, and the sellouts, and the sophists? Is it the rich and those who have trampled the law in order to better themselves? Is it the bankers who caused the 2008 crash, or the torturers and war criminals of the neo-conservative era? No, it is not. It is the poor and the meek, and those who cannot defend themselves. It is the black person, whose cells of today now outnumber the chains of slaves in 1850. It is the Native American, who is most likely to be killed by police, and imprisoned up to six times more than the average American. It is the Latino, who consistently faces harsher sentences for the same crime committed by white people. What a peculiar institution this is – this new Jim Crow! Two million men and women, two million human beings exist as our prisoners. Look here then, and I shall show you at least a million depressions which could be a million dreams, and a million cells which could be a million rooms of learning. How many thousands are filled unjustly. How many chains are the burdens of tyranny. In truth, 40% of these prisoners could be released as they pose no serious threat to public safety. In doing so we would save tens of billions of dollars – and hundreds of thousands of lives. But, says the the warden, these walls and towers and bars  are built with the common good in mind, in the defense of peace. To this end, releasing the addicted, and the poor, and the savages of all kinds is a threat to our common stability and calmness.

But certainly no reasonable person denies the need for prisons generally. What I emphatically do deny is the need for prisons as the solution to all criminal behavior. Or in the case of drugs, non-criminal behavior. Not all problems can be solved by throwing them away, because nothing is born from the void. If we do not treat the root of the problem, then we have been as a fool, seeing effect as cause, treating what is symptomatic as the disease. Indeed, the war on drugs is a war on minorities and all people of poverty. Even though whites and minorities use and sell drugs at similar rates, drug sentencing disproportionately affects poor people and people of color. But to a larger point – over 20 million Americans have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. If you take into view that more people die of overdose than car accidents, homicide, or suicide, it becomes clear that this is an issue of public health, of purpose and meaning, of poverty, not criminality. A drug addict is a victim, a victim of herself and of our moral failing as a thinking and compassionate society. And often, she is a victim of a lacking purpose. But let us not assume that the drug user is always a victim. Sometimes they are simply human beings expressing their bodily autonomy, to do with their body as they so choose. To deny them this right is to become a tyrant, to unjustly exercise power over them for personal gain. And so in the criminalization of drugs we see quite clearly the effect that corruption has on our society. When perverse circumstance is designed in the entrapment and oppression of people – the impoverished and all those abandoned by the larger society – when the redressing of grievances is no longer an ability, the oppressed are often to seek distraction in their addiction or pleasure, or to seek rebellion against their condition in some fashion of crime. When the society then uses the things distilled from this unnatural sieve to further the disparity, we see one of the most inhuman webs spun by man. Instead of criminal reform, we pursue the draconian. Instead of helping the addicted, we condemn them. Instead of sympathizing with the impoverished, we ignore and aggravate. The prison of today is an industry, a factory whose product is human life, whose consequence is perverse law, and whose ultimate result is neo-slavery. The private prison, the lawmaker, the policeman, the weapons manufacturer, and the pharmaceutical giant, in their gross assembly, show vain disregard for liberty and human welfare, by valuing profit more than man – mammon more than God.

The corruption of our Senate now exceeds even that of Rome, and to this we may say our Caesar is the corporation, whose treachery knows no bound. But it is not say that capitalism is inherently evil. It stems, after all, from liberty, and free association. What is evil though, is the commingling of private and public interests. What is evil, and let us not think of another word, because it certainly is evil, is the fact that lobbyists and corporations and special interests of all manner dump money by the billions into our political system, and buy it out, as if it were for sale. And should we assume it out of good will? Do we suppose these towering prisons are built in the name of the common good, and our thunderous bombs are dropped in the promotion of world peace? Only a fool could think such things. The moneyed interests have infected our society like maggots, or snakes, and seek to feed upon its ribs until they have ran it dry, and will then run onto the next host. This fate, as true patriots, we must defend against.

Having dealt so harshly with so many aspects of our American society, you may think nothing left to criticize. You may say, Ant, you’ve done enough, go away, and bother someone else with your nonsense. But as long as justice need be defended, it is my duty, and yours as well, to defend her, no matter what anyone else says. So before I leave you alone, there is something blatant that we have yet to deal with, that has become so engrained in our society that most people think nothing of it at all. That is war.

War is an egregious effort exerted in the destruction of human beings. That is what it is – simply. It is often the full impetus of existence guided toward a ruinous and excited end. It is often glorified, and proud. But when empires commit war, they do so with the detached and thoughtless mind of mandate. A border then is a trifle, violence a pick, or a shovel, human excellence a squeal drowned out by the gears and rotors of a mobilized machine. The wars of empires are fought in distant lands, for the claim of wealth that couldn’t make a difference to the already amassed pile. This is not to say that I do not believe in the idea of a just war, for, sometimes, wars will certainly be necessary. But even here we find war as a terrible thing that brings suffering to the world. And as we have already concluded, the good society must work against this end.

America is engaged in perpetual and meaningless war. The US-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, although officially ended, are in truth, far from it. And this new perceived threat in ISIS will work to further our entrapment. The US maintains thousands (the true number being undisclosed) of soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and sent some form of military dispatchment to 70% of all countries on the face of the earth in 2015, including Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The original intent of the Afghanistan war was to destroy Al-Qaeda and disrupt the Taliban. But Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. And he was not in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, and was killed by a small team, not a massive army. And how big was Al-Qaeda in the first place, to demand such an earth-trembling response? A few hundred people, perhaps a few thousand? Does a small terrorist organization warrant ourselves terrorizing an entire landmass? The United States military spends more than the next top eight nations combined, most of which are our allies. The original reasoning behind the 2003 Iraq war was that Saddam Hussein may have had connections to 9/11, and also to free his grasp from the supposed weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was toppled within the year – he had no involvement in 9/11 and never possessed any weapons of mass destruction. The consequences of these massive obfuscations are untold. Conservative estimates of civilian deaths lie in the hundreds of thousands. Thousands of allied troops lie dead, and tens of thousands wounded and maimed. And when all is said and done, these wars will have cost the United States trillions of dollars. Not to mention that our continued involvement lent to the creation and empowerment of a larger threat – ISIS. The gross incompetence – rather, criminality – displayed by the military and oligarchy is astounding, but what truly disturbs me is the silent ignorance expressed by us, and our fellow brothers and sisters. The peculiarity of war must never become familiar to us, because it is then that we have grown deaf to the most violent pangs of a tortured humanity. And I cannot know how deafness arose to these wars, with their explosions and dismemberments, with their gnashing teeth and burnt flesh, but we have slumbered in the complacency of our amenities and distractions for too long. Never let war and suffering become far away objects in your mind – you must think of them often. Not to torture or blame yourself, but to keep the action in your arm, and the fight for liberty ever watered and renewed. As we speak there are American bombs being dropped in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia – the poorest places on the face of the earth. But if we perceived our enemies, say some other rag-tag militia numbering in the few thousands, to exist in Paris, or London, or New York, in a sleepy hamlet in Italy, or a rural town in Iowa, how many bombs would we drop in these places? How many innocents would we allow to die so callously? Few, if any, I imagine. Such an act would be labeled an atrocity. There would be no talk of necessary evil. We would find other means to defeat them, because there are certainly much more sane and effective methods. Is there a difference in moral value then, between your mother or brother in California and someone else’s in Iraq? No? Then let us not make a special plea. As rational beings we cannot treat similar cases in a dissimilar manner without reason.

But back to the question, what sense is there in the continuation of senseless war? As we have seen, the original objectives of the war have been met or were entirely fabricated to begin with. The United States has spent decades exploiting the Americas and Africa, destabilizing the Middle East, and thinks to solve the problems we caused by dropping a few more 100,000 bombs, as if the last few 100,000 haven’t done enough. Give me just one reason why we should have thousands of American lives sacrificed and trillions of dollars squandered in a faraway land – I am certain you cannot. No lover of liberty is a supporter of the Taliban or ISIS. No true patriot supports Saddam, or Gaddafi, or now, Assad. But a foreign agent invading and bombing is not the road to liberty – it is the road to further political disaster and strife. It is the road, in truth, that excites terrorism. It is the road to corruption and human suffering. If nothing else, this is what the last few decades should have revealed to us so very clearly. Then why do we continue down this path? The answer is, of course, obvious, if we take into consideration the empire that the United States has become. These wars are undertaken so that the arms manufacturers may profit, and the war profiteers, and the private military companies, and the private health industry, and so the corrupt lawmakers may profit, and let us not forget the fossil fuel industry. An industry of war is the last act of barbarism from the so-called civilized world. A society that does not know how many wars it is engaged in, how many people it is killing, is beyond reproach. It is a grand evil – and let us not call it anything different. America has always carried a big stick, but she no longer walks softly, but dumbly. Of course, America is a nation founded in revolution and violence. It is in our DNA. America is a nation that systematically eliminated, oppressed, or enslaved tens of millions of people based on the stratification of class and skin. Violent, warmongering, uncaring, certainly, are not traits of the good society. We must always work to end unjust war, and to remember that violence is a tremendous evil. Our lack of exposure to its terrible nature is no excuse; our ignorance itself is culpable. We must acknowledge the fact that war is undertaken with our silence as consent.

I have yet to mention the fact that the United States has been engaged in torture. We have broken the Geneva Convention, and habeas corpus, stealing the rights of human beings. We have unlawfully and indiscriminately spied on our citizens and the world at large. We have stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear arms. We have allowed for the consolidation and pacification of the press. We have allowed for the mass proliferation of guns in service to the fear-mongers and weapon manufacturers. And perhaps of the most paramount concern, we have done nothing to prevent the largest existential crisis that we have ever faced – climate change. No treasure upon the earth is worth what we have done to our souls. No amount of material can mend the suffering our apathy has wrought.  And it is certainly we, for our silence speaks itself.

After such an attack on almost every facet of our American society, you may think me some disloyal ingrate, a gibbering malcontent, taking no notice of the mother who suckled me. But nothing could be further from the truth. Love is expressed not in control, or agreement, or even nearness, but in wanting what is good for those you love, and seeking to bring them closer to it. The truth is you may never find such a loyal servant to the Union than I. The demagogues and politicians and false patriots, the imposters and thieves and traitors, have left America ashamed, unclothed, and near death. It is our duty, not to restore her stars, not paint again her stripes, but make her anew, as the tempered glory seen in flame. Thus, here is my appeal to heaven. Let us no longer be inert and complicit. Let us no longer sit idly by in the face of oligarchy. But let us go forward, with free minds and open hands, and seek everyday to become closer to what is good and true.

 

On Faith – A Socratic Dialogue

“Do you not have faith, Socrates, that we may yet still be delivered from our condition?”

“Ah faith, a great light to many. Of its estimation, I must admit, I do not know.”

“Yes, faith is the thing which gives meaning to my life, and to many more I’m sure. Perhaps this is the thing which we are now currently in search of.”

“Faith seems to me now an object worthy of inquiry! ”

“I should think so.”

“Please, relate to us the merits of faith. What makes it avail where all else fails? How can it help us in our present predicament? Expound upon the properties peculiar to faith, making it worthy of its approbation.”

“I shall try my best to champion my faith. In the first, I would say that faith gives us hope. This hope allows the faithful an aspect of perseverance through tribulation. Those without faith, it would seem to me, are at a loss when faced with perverse circumstance, a condition we now find ourselves in. Faith braves consequences wherein reason could never tread.”

“Before proceeding further, it would seem wise to me to define faith as we understand it to be, as to avoid contention at a later point.”

“This seems wise to me too, Socrates. I shall say that faith is a strong belief and trust in divine providence, the confidence in a divine benevolence. It is the surest way to find absolute truth.”

“And if we sought a single succinct definition?”

“If we sought this, Socrates, my answer would be thus: faith is truth understood without doubt.”

“All fine answers! And wise ones they seem to me. But please, I shall not utter a word more until every last one of the brilliant merits of faith are espoused.”

“Very well, I shall continue. Hope is an integral result of faith, but by no means the only one. Faith provides bliss, happiness. Faith is in many circumstances the only reason justifying belief, and I think it is the only one necessary in itself. It is the only attribute a person needs in order to discover truth and goodness, I think. There are many other worthy qualities of faith, but these are more than enough to rank it as the greatest virtue among virtues.”

“I say young man, you have done a fine job in praising faith! Perhaps it is worthy of the praise you ascribe – sadly, I do not know. But humor an old man in a silly inquiry; answer me this. If I tell you now that this rock that I hold will continue upward forever into the stars if I were now to toss it up, would you believe me?”

“I would not.”

“And why not?”

“Because that notion is absurd.”

“And what makes the notion absurd?”

“It is contrary to all knowledge and experience.”

“So you justify your belief in the rock’s falling on a reason, namely that of experience?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And if I were to tell you that you must have faith in the rock’s ascendency? What would you respond?”

“I would respond that I could not have faith in such a thing.”

“And why not?”

“Because it is contrary to what we know and expect to happen.”

“By this example, could we not claim then that faith is the very absence of reason?”

“I don’t quite follow.”

“When we have reason to our belief, we do not avail to faith. Reason is like a torch in a cave, when we have grasp of it, we no longer have to stumble and speculate what lies before us, for we are able to clearly perceive our surroundings and make judgments based on our sight. Indeed, it would be impossible to recourse to faith again once our eyes are properly adjusted, unless of course the flame expires, or we choose to shut our own eyes. And if I were to tell you that you must have faith in the rock’s downward fall, would you not say that faith is superfluous in such a case?”

“I would. Reason is more than sufficient for such a simple matter as a falling rock.”

“Then as we can see, faith is the absence of reason, for faith is based on the intuition of the emotions and does not seek to justify the conclusions that it draws, whereas reason necessarily furnishes justification to the understanding. The nature of faith and reason are thus contradictory and cannot be assimilated. Would you agree?”

“Hm, I think so.”

“And, to move to a more general point, what is the purpose of reason and faith? What do they hope to obtain in their practice?”

“Truth.”

“Precisely! So the faculty which is better able to find truth is the one better suited to its end? The knife that cuts the best is the sharpest, if you will. For the sharpest knife will cut the rib, and the most excellent faculty will discover the truth. Whether it happens to be reason or faith, it is the one we should necessarily use over the other once we find it?”

“Yes, I should think so.”

“What do you use to support your belief in faith?”

“All I can say is that I have faith.”

“Then let us begin with that. Is faith capable of erring?”

“No, it is not. It is a light to truth.”

“Then what of the differing faiths of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Persians, and the like, do they too not have faith?”

“It seems obvious they do.”

“But surely the Greeks, Egyptians, and Persians cannot all be right. For they have contradictory beliefs.”

“This is without doubt.”

“Then at the very least two of these doctrines are in error. Faith leaves us at an impasse; we have no way to adjudicate the truth beyond this. But more to the point, we can clearly see that faith is fallible. Not all three of the religions can be correct, yet faith led us to all three of these separate and distinct conclusions, all contradictory in nature. If a witness to a murder accused three different people who were all at different parts of town at the time of the murder, it would seem absurd to trust their judgment. This would be especially so if when asked, ‘What reason do you expect so and so committed the crime?’ the witness replied, ‘Well, I have a feeling.’ Obviously faith is no proper guide in the darkness of ignorance. A more lustrous light is needed. A method beyond the capacity of error is needed. And if no such faculty exists, then the one that errs the least would seem the best. With faith now properly excluded from our selection, what faculty would meet our standard?”

“It would seem that reason best fits this principle.”

“In the case of reason, is it not true that it is beyond error, or at the very least, beyond error to a very significant extent as required in our understanding? To every rational agent, two and two makes four, without exception. Whereas faith could provide one man the sum of two and two as five, and the next as three.”

“But reason is not beyond error either, for often two distinct conclusions are drawn from the very same logic.”

“Yes, this seems to be the case. But there is a difference between reason and faith in this regard. A man may use his reason to find the sum of two and two and still arrive at the wrong answer. But the error here does not exist within reason itself, but in the man’s misuse and confusion of his reason. For if he were to solve the problem in the proper way, that is, with the correct dictations of reason, he would arrive at the universal answer that mathematics consists. So it is indeed the case that someone may err in the application of reason, but this in no way casts doubt upon our confidence in reason itself. A steady ship that sinks because of its course of direction is not culpable of its submergence, for it is the responsibility of the captain to steer her properly. Reason is a fine vessel, and may lead its traveler from the shores of continents. In this respect, reason is virtually incapable of error when directed properly. Faith, on the other hand, is capricious to even the most seasoned captain, and is at the whim of the currents of the tempestuous passions – fear and prejudice make us board her hull.

“And, remind me once more, my young friend, what reason and faith are in search of?”

“I believe we agreed upon truth.”

“And what is better suited in the search of truth, a faculty capable of error, or one that cannot err?”

“The faculty that cannot lead to error will help us to find the truth.”

“Because truth, by definition, has as its property the absence of error?”

“Yes.”

“And faith is capable of error?”

“With regard to important subjects as mathematics and religion, it would seem it is.”

“And of reason?”

“Reason, it would seem, cannot err when properly handled.”

“So what, then, will the faculty be that we should employ in our search for knowledge?”

“Reason, I say.”

Emerson – Self-Reliance

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“Do not seek for things outside of yourself.”

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his own mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages,” Emerson states. The soul, our consciousness, which drips with the unique confluence of our legioned experience, is where every action drawn forth should stem. Anything less is to shy away from what your nature has ordained, and “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”

Society is always in conspiracy against such a person of their own nature, against the nonconformist, Emerson states. But good and evil has no form without its creator. Should I do good before I know it? How then, do I know  that it is good at all? “Truth is handsomer than the affectation of love.” I can only come to know what is good once I have come to know what is true, and at that point they become one and the same. When people treat virtue as penance, good as a troublesome commodity, they are more concerned with meeting the lines of some perceived assignment. But as Emerson says I must do only what concerns me. If I am to do good at all, to do anything at all, it must have its root in the will of the individual. For a person steeped in the foothills of adoption, disguised by the thousand glimmering wills of her ancients and contemporaries, has blocked the sun, and stunted the fruits by which God may know her.

Emerson says to think of the roses beneath his windowsill. They make “no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are, they exist today with God. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.” Indeed, a thing is perfect so far as it is congruent with itself. To be happy, we must know ourselves, and not seek recourse to the murmuring memories of past, or the whisking promises of tomorrow. What is outside of us is, and what is inside of us is. We have will of the latter, and the former must be. This will is thus essential to our existence, it is our existence, and its expression is for that reason the truest form of creation. It mustn’t be left ashamed and misshapen; it is the evidence of our existence, the very moment of being. “The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well.”

To keep it sacred then, we must foster its growth. We must cast off the will of others, that cling to ours with needly arms, and embrace isolation. But as Emerson says, this isolation is not physical, but spiritual. Because the “great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Indeed, “I must be myself.”

To pray, to regret, to seek ourselves in vain pleasures and detached numbers, to hope for things outside of our own will, is surely folly. When things go well and things go bad, we should not boast and moan in accordance. If we do what we have willed, to the most we possibly could have, then we should have a prideful contentment knowing that we have existed fully, and not betrayed that truth that so bashfully asks our attendance.

 

Neon Genesis Evangelion – an Analysis

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“You are extremely afraid of any kind of initial contact, aren’t you? Are you that afraid of other people? I know that by keeping others at a distance you avoid a betrayal of your trust. Although you may not be hurt that way you mustn’t forget that you must endure the loneliness. Men can never completely erase this sadness because all men are fundamentally alone.”

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a 90’s anime directed by Hideaki Anno. I think it’s a great work of art, and philosophy. In the year 2000, a catastrophic event called the Second Impact occurred on Earth, killing billions of people. Fifteen years later, the things responsible for this impact, a giant, ineffable, and eclectic race of what are seemingly aliens, appear on Earth. These aliens are called by Earth’s survivors Angels. Their intelligence is beyond understanding, and their motives obscure. But what is palpable is that they are hostile. Of course, conventional weapons are pretty much useless against beings composed of strange matter, and who exist in dimensions higher than ours. Humanity then, on the brink of extinction, develops the Evangelion as their last hope to resist the Angels. The Evangelion are trillion dollar, bipedal, bio-mechs that were developed by the shadowy group NERV with the use of Angel technology. Their purpose is to destroy the Angels, and in doing so, save humankind.

But, for some unexplained reason (or for some reason I didn’t get), these Evas can only be piloted by children. NERV then, seeks out children who have the ability to synchronize themselves with the Evangelion. The second child chosen to pilot an Eva is Shinji Ikari, the protagonist of the series. Abandoned by his father as a child, Shinji is introverted, diffident, and emotionally repressed. He rarely speaks unless spoken to, and then he is polite and often obsequious. He spends most of his time alone and with earphones in. He has no friends. Piloting the Eva gives him purpose, but he isn’t sure why he is doing it. Shinji’s character is what I liked most about the show. He deals with loneliness, abandonment, meaninglessness, and death.

Shinji views himself as useless. And really there isn’t much worse of a thing one can be. In his uselessness, Shinji comes to hate himself, stating on multiple occasions that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies. As Camus says, the first question we must ask ourselves is whether life is worth living at all. All else, the grand questions of the universe, our relationships to others, are trivial in the face of such a question. Piloting Eva Unit-01 makes Shinji feel useful–it gives him purpose. But it is an awfully convenient purpose, for his father, a higher up in NERV, never bothered to even speak to Shinji until he was needed to fight the Angels. In this sense, Shinji’s relationships seem to be a perversion. People treat him just as a tool, and once he is no longer needed, his purpose dies. Shinji pilots the Eva, he kills the Angels,

“Position target in the center and pull the switch,”

he repeats on and on listlessly. It is a purpose lacking volition, born from elsewhere. Our conceit, our will, our semblance of connection, our need to be of use, seem to be just as hollow as a universe devoid. Why do I pilot the Eva, Shinji eventually comes to ask himself, and it gradually comes to haunt him. And for good reason, really, because what he is really asking himself is why do I exist. That is a question everyone need answer.

It isn’t until Shinji has killed multiple Angels does he ask what they actually are. This shows the human condition. We do things because they are done. Shinji destroys the Angels by mercilessly beating their faces in and tearing at their limbs. He is able to do such things, just as we are able to think it acceptable to buy phones and cars when people are starving, just as we are able to think it acceptable to perpetuate war, and just as we wake up every morning and go about our daily routine, for the very reason that they are, just that, accepted. Why do we do things? By knowing the Angels, Shinji is confronted with the inherent irrationality of the world. Try as he may, the Angels are capricious beings that cripple any attempt at understanding. This reflects our perennial task of conforming the irrational nature of the world to our rational understanding. Such a task is useless. And Shinji is already very much afraid of uselessness. This is why the question begins to consume him: why do I pilot the Eva? “Because everyone tells me to,” or, “For the sake of mankind,” he answers. But this is to seek his value in others’ perception. This is to once more make Shinji a tool. It seems he pilots the Eva to quell his feeling of uselessness, a feeling stemming from his sense of abandonment. Why then, should Shinji pilot though it causes suffering, and to the bigger point, why should we continue to live in an irrational world full of suffering? Surely ‘its convention’ or ‘our utility’ are not sufficient reason. To no longer be useless, to no longer be a tool, Shinji must choose to pilot the Eva. Shinji must himself choose to live. All else is without purpose.

But the question remains, why should Shinji continue to live? Why should you or I, choose to live? The world is full of horrible and violent suffering, and there seems no end of it. At the end of his fight, Shinji is left in a devastated Tokyo, with his friends either dead or gone. But to answer our question, one must separate what is from what ought. The Angels came with no known reason and caused tremendous suffering. Such suffering is not within Shinji’s control. The world itself eludes our capture. But our purpose is found in our choosing it. Our happiness is completely and only within our will. If we are to have purpose at all, we must choose it to be so. As Shinji’s friend Asuka reminds him:

“If you want real happiness, you’ve got to find it for yourself, not wait for someone to give it to you.”

We are happy the moment we will it to be. This is why Sisyphus can be happier than Croesus. Irrationality is intrinsic to this world, suffering inseparable, but our will is our own. If we choose to face the world with the full conviction of our  own purpose, we can be happy.

Shinji comes to learn this in the final two episodes of the series, where things turn 2001: A Space Odyssey. The 9th Symphony is blaring, the Angels are destroyed, and–what I interpreted as happening–Earth is melding its consciousness together. This is the Human Instrumentality Project. Shinji is confronted in his subconscious by the projections of all the friends he came to have. The world Shinji built before the Evas was one devoid of other people. And this is the world he confronts in his subconscious. In his attempt to keep pain at bay, he alienated himself from the world and from others, but ironically, this only led to further suffering. Throughout the series, Shinji repeats to himself, “I mustn’t run away.” But this is exactly what he has been doing. By alienating himself from other people, he refuses to acknowledge the fact that he is alone, that he is lost. And we are all fundamentally alone, because we are all separate in mind from others. If Shinji wants to mend this loneliness, he has to accept the world and the full amount of suffering it entails. Shinji learns, in the end, that meaning must come from one’s self, but one’s self is inseparably composed of other people.

The Morality of Abortion

I should think that the question of abortion isn’t an easy one. But I’d like to make the case that abortion is morally permissible in most cases, even if it may not always be morally right.

I’d like to start with a thought experiment that I heard from Matt Dillahunty. It goes something like this. Imagine that there’s a person, we’ll call Buck, that has a debilitating disease. This disease is so debilitating, that if he does not receive prolonged treatment, he will surely die. The treatment, oddly enough, is to hook up a machine to another person that transfers vital fluids from that person to Buck. And, even odder, the only person that can save Buck is you. The machine must constantly connect you and Buck for nine whole months, and the machine will certainly be a burden on your life. Not only will you have to lug it and Buck around, but your energy will be drained, and even more, your very life is in some danger. Assuming both you and Buck survive the ordeal, you will have the choice to continue your relationship with Buck, or to never see him again, as you see fit.

Obviously I’m drawing an analogy to abortion here. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that fetuses are people. And as such, a fetus has the same rights as a person, the very same rights as you, me, and even Buck. Very well, now what we must ask ourselves is whether or not it would be permissible for Buck to forcibly attach his machine to you to sustain his life. I would argue it is not, for doing so violates your right to bodily autonomy. If you believe that it would be wrong for him to attach his machine to you coercively, then since fetuses and people share the same rights, you must also accept it that it is wrong to coerce women into carrying out their pregnancy. Even granting all of the same rights to fetuses that people have, I believe abortion to still be permissible. My argument is as follows:

(1) People cannot use other people’s bodies for their own ends without consent.

(2) Fetuses are people.

Therefore, fetuses cannot use other people’s bodies for their own ends without consent.

If both premises (1) and (2) are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows. Although it is possible that it still may not be logically sound. I’m inclined to believe (1), and also inclined to believe that it is not a right easily abrogated. (2) I’ve accepted for the sake of argument. But if fetuses are not people, then their rights certainly aren’t even relevant, at least not here. As such, if fetuses have the rights of people, I believe the argument is both valid and sound.

For this reason I believe abortion is morally permissible, and thus, should be legal. But there is another question that I find of interest, and that is whether it would be more moral to carry out the pregnancy or to terminate it, all things considered. I think abortion draws a clear distinction between the right and the good. Of course I think any serious answer to this question must take into account all of the considerations at hand, for the variables here are myriad. The quality of life the mother and child will experience, the overpopulation of the Earth, the possible pain the fetus and mother will experience, the possible personhood of the fetus, are four considerations that come immediately to my mind. As I’ve already said, I believe abortion to be morally permissible, but I am not convinced of the fact that it is always the best course of action when the pregnancy is unwanted. I don’t think expediency in and of itself necessarily justifies abortion, at least in the moral sense. I think abortion for the reason of expediency should be allowed, or for that matter any number of reasons, but I question the moral content of such an action. For example, if a mother found out beforehand that her child would be gay, then I would find it morally objectionable that an abortion would be conducted to avoid such a consequence, but yet still I think the right to bodily autonomy would hold strong.

But there does come a time when abortion is illegal, and in my opinion, rightfully so. Where we draw this line is hard to say. It seems when we find abortion morally impermissible, it is when the mother’s right to bodily autonomy is overriden by other considerations, these particularly dealing with the welfare of the fetus. Of course the right of bodily autonomy should not be defeated easily. There must be great justification to do so. Although I am still thinking about it, it is my current opinion that when the fetus is self-sustaining, the mother’s right to bodily autonomy is overriden. The calculus of such a choice must be undertaken carefully. But as with any choice, it should not be done without considering the full gamut of effects and rights.