Asking the Right Questions

That idea, asking the right questions, needs to become a research topic for social sciences/business/government/anything that uses statistics (meaning: everything).

As an example, I am working with an organization that is attached to a national level organization.  The national level has a survey for the individual organizations to fill out which asks about various aspects of the organization.  Filling out this little survey though gives the specific organization I am a part of a pretty bad grade though because this survey fails to ask whether the organization has it’s own building, where the organization is geographically in reference to military and/or minority groups.  Pretty important things that will not be taken into account when filing the paperwork I am sure.

Take a look at grant reports for development work world-wide too;  they bring to mind a phrase I heard once, “Development projects never fail.” None of the grants will ever report a failure although, if you return to those project sites maybe a year later, it will be awfully difficult to find a success.  Take a closer look at the reports though and the things they ask for are “how many individuals are taught x?”; “how many x were built?”; “how much money was made through x-technique?” All factors in a successful development project but certainly not the final factors and, I suspect, not even the most important factors.

This was the strength of journalism: helping show the details lost in the statistics; but, we all know where that discussion goes at the moment.

So, if these questions are unfair, asking the wrong questions or not actually help improve what is going on, it would seem that we need to learn how ask questions properly.  What these questions are, I am not sure yet.  I will state that the questions are not nearly as easy to ask or measure though looks like we might have to step back from our love affair with numbers or, at least, recognize that they are representations of a much more complicated world.  Maybe the first question to ask, what is the specific situation of x in comparison to other places we are measuring?


Reading Questions

I am currently reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, one of the more important political/economic treatises since World War II I think.  (It is certainly up there if not that high.)  In the book, Mr. Hayek is arguing against socialism of the era in the form of an entirely or mostly planned economy which he saw coming to power in England and already holding power in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia.

Essentially, planned economies take away individual liberty according to his argument.  I am not here to analyze that part though. Instead, what if we are going towards a planned economy regardless of our politics through something that Hayek may not have foreseen?  The new thing is technology and this advent of big data and wearable technology etc.  We are slowly gaining the ability to get data on practically every moment of our days.  I do not think that Hayek foresaw such an occurrence while writing and I wonder what he would have to say.

In short: are we building ourselves into a planned society without even intending it?

Regardless of what we do economically/politically, technology is becoming wearable, mobile and ubiquitous.  Ubiquitous technology generally tends towards ubiquitous data as can be seen with our “Big Data” issue coming up and as the smart city movement gains momentum towards measuring everything.

The problem with all of this is it is data from measurable things only, technology cannot make value judgments it can only take in what it is told to take in and focus on that information in whatever measurable way it is told.  There are severe limitations in that.  This ability to change values was one of the strengths of money, an individual could use their money in ways that aligned with their individual values (thanks, Hayek!),  instead of being limited to what was deemed “worthy” money could be used in multiple different ways by different individuals because the money earned did not already have a value judgment built into it and was not limited in measuring like data is when it is being gathered. Technology and data, instead can only focus on view things and generally that information is used to increase “efficiency.”  So, the information gathered, especially in reference to time, can generally be used to increase productivity but it becomes harder to use it in other ways.

So, in essence, technology measures productivity and nothing else.

The problem is, as humans, sometimes the lack of productivity is the most productive thing to do.  Meditation as a contemporary example, the day of rest as a biblical one, sleep as a fact of life one. Also, productivity, as we all know is NOT necessarily quality.  Producing millions of cheap plastic chairs may be producing “more” in a measurable way but it is not the same as a craftsman finding wood, carving it and putting it together into a rocking chair on their own.  Money helps us show that difference through the different price tags I believe.  But, our data, as compared to time, would still probably find it more “efficient” to produce the plastic chairs instead and that would lead to a higher profit margin.  I would argue that, as technology becomes more ubiquitous, these sorts of value judgments are going to end up happening without us necessarily realizing it.  Meaning we could end up with a planned society based on efficiency without ever actually intending it.  Especially as we slowly let our human ability to decide value languish thanks to those decisions being made outside of ourselves.

I simply wonder, what does Hayek have to say in response to this?

Computers and Papers

This is just an interesting question that I came to at one point, play nice, it is just thinking, I’m not convinced of this myself.

Is the fact that computers are more affordable causing a lack of good school work for students?  Sometimes it appears so, now that it is pretty much expected that all students have a laptop with them they can do work from anywhere whenever they want, at least that what it feels like is assumed sometimes.  So because of this ability to type up papers and do scholarly work at all times, do we, as students get more busy-work?  I have two classes which require “reading responses,” which are approximately two page short papers responding to our readings, was this the norm in universities pre-computers? How about pre-typewriters?  Did everyone just write these out by hand instead, and is that necessarily worse?  Or did it mean less random writing assignments were given and students were expected to, instead of producing a lot of pages with ink on them all of the time, create good pages with ink on them, if fewer?

Un-liked Conclusions

Caution: Possibly offensive ideas below.

Note: Don’t you dare attack me for saying any of this, I am just walking through the conclusions that come to me when looking at the world, I am not necessarily advocating these views.  This is more an experiment in realizing our western way of life is as absurd, if not more absurd, as any other way of life that can be imagined.

So, I just saw something that mentioned special-needs kids.  Now, considering that Western Culture believes in the church of logic, why are special-needs kids defended so much?  For this world of science it seems to be a form of sacrilege really, or maybe simply a way to keep human experiments around without having human rights issues.

Stop and think about it, if human beings are simply another species of animals, why are people so afraid of the general law of fittest survives?  If this is truly the scientific fact, why do we not go along with it like we tend to do with every other scientific fact? Seriously, every single medical advance is touted as wonderful, every new little piece of technology is amazing and life-changing.  Yet the fact that we are just animals is covered up as best as possible.  How does this work out in such a “scientifically advanced” society?

In such a society there must be a reason that we want to protect these special-needs kids so much.  Simply saying because they are human too/we feel bad does not apply in logic.  So what else could it be besides a form of scientific experiments with the children?  It makes sense, a child which does need help and would not be “scientifically” fittest arguably would not make it in the “animal” world.  But if we do keep them alive we can continue to advance our “science”! We can solve more problems! We can gain more knowledge! So now we just have unofficial laboratory experiments across the globe? Didn’t we have serious issues with this when they first started happening?

So, are we “scientifically advanced” or are we something else?  Are you really athiest? Do you really believe in God? Can you really defend acting like this otherwise?  Just saying, maybe you should make a decision.


Quick Thought

Our entire world-view is based on the individual, the individual, rational, self-interested person. Everything is looked at in this way only this individual would go into social contracts, only this individual would need human rights, only this individual would need the world we live in. What is the justification for this person?
Why can’t a person be a member of a group? Why can’t a person have an identity in a group?

Teaching Philosophy

There is a lot of information when you search for “teaching philosophy” or related terms, but they are all related to the in-class problems of teaching philosophy.  How to get discussions going, how to make students accountable for doing the reading, etc. etc.  But I cannot find any discussion on the curriculum of philosophy.  So far my philosophy education has been various classes mostly focused on entirely different subjects such as rationalism and epistemology.  Critical Thinking, 20th Century Continental Philosophy and other separate topics of this sort.  I wonder if this is the best way to teach a philosophy major though.  An introduction to philosophy sure, make it a broad course, just get a student’s feet wet in various writers, topics, eras etc.  But, if they are more interested and want to pursue philosophy how should the student learn all of the different philosophical systems?  I understand not every single system can be learned without a minimum of three lifetimes but, the general themes in philosophy at least.  What is the best way to introduce a student with a major in philosophy?  I have not been able to find anyone who has discussed this question.

Does it make sense to be teaching philosophy is this jumbled way? Where I can pick and choose a little bit of Aristotle and then go to Heidegger and then to Descartes then come back to modern texts?  To me no, context is important in my opinion and just throwing various philosophers at me does not help me with that sort of context.  Maybe not every student learns like this, but I think a discussion like this definitely has to happen if it has not already.

I think, that it would make more sense to start with Socrates (which it seems most intro philosophy courses do anyway) and then work historically forward to the present day philosophy.  But, we have to make sure to avoid getting in the mindset of there being Aristotle’s telos of humanity.  Yet, the historical part of philosophy happening is incredibly important.  I have barely ever dealt with Aristotle (less than a one semester course) and then I went on to reading Rationalist texts, who were all attempting to react to Aristotle’s metaphysics.  How in the world can I truly understand these thinkers without having some more thorough knowledge of Aristotle and everything in between the two sets of thinkers?  I don’t think I can.  Maybe historical is not the best way though, it is not exactly friendly to philosophy’s ideal of being timeless.

Another problem is in these classes like “rationalism” I end up dealing with a handful of writers but never really getting into any of them and in some ways it seems that I cannot come to appreciate the vastness of their thought without having read some of their other texts.  Locke, as an empiricist is another example, I have had to go over both his Essay on Human Understanding and his Treatise on Government, but they have never been taught as coming from the same Mr. Locke.  It is almost as if there are two different John Lockes who wrote these two separate texts, yet it isn’t.  The same man wrote both texts and I think that a better understanding of both would come from having dealt with both in the same course.  So a “Locke” course would thus be in order.  But then the student may absolutely despise all of Locke’s writings, but this student would have to understand and know Locke well in order to properly respond to his writing and understand the others that responded to Locke’s writings.  Then there is the question, is one better than the other? Is it possible to reconcile them? What about actual modern philosophy that has not been directly dealt with in the historical texts?

My direct answers to these questions respectively are: No, Yes,  higher level classes, if at all.  (Modern philosophy in the sense of journal articles being written like they are today is terrible in my opinion, but that is another topic.)

So I guess, has this discussion been had? Where at?

Not Enough Knowledge To Fully Support

It appears that Western philosophical thought is plagued by a constant dichotomy in basically every issue.  Due to my philosophical focus in school this is what I will be looking at with more detail and ever-so-slightly more knowledge.

These two lines of philosophical thought are far, far from being clear-cut like I am hoping to draw out here but I think that this is an undefined undercurrent that can be found within philosophical though.  These two branches are the Rationalist (not necessarily in any usual philosophical sense of the term) and then a group that is much harder to name.  I want to use Reasonable just for entertainment and to be confusing but that is not the best term for this other line, for now I’ll just call it the Other for clarity.

So, these two branches, the Rationalist and the Other branch.  I want to put down a really quick sketch of the thinkers and how I categorize some of them.  Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas (pretty much all famous early Christian theologians to my knowledge), Descartes and Kant are all members of the Rationalist branch.  See why that name works so well for this group?  They really strongly push for logic and trying to make everything as clear-cut as possible and try to argue for some sort of bigger thing out in the universe which is truth, justice, God…etc. etc.  These are the people who try to figure out what are the underlying laws in nature and the universe. If you know the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance this idea of underlying laws/forms is known to you.

The Other branch has Xenophon, Emerson, Nietzsche in my opinion, due to my philosophical training those are some of the only writers I have studied well enough to feel pretty sure about my placement.  This Other branch appears to focus more on how to live as a person, not the universal laws of nature or anything to that affect, just how to actually live a life worth living, remembering, enjoying.

These two branches seem to float through the entire history of Western thought, at least in my limited knowledge of philosophical and legal traditions.  Yet I have only run into one professor who seemed willing to acknowledge this dichotomy directly.  The rest of the professors I’ve had seem to simply want to focus on the Rationalist group and ignore the rest as much as possible.

… hmmm, sounds like analytic philosophers to me…..

Pot-shots and generalizations aside, I do see this in my limited scope of knowledge yet no serious teaching has been done on this subject it seems like professors and academics would simply prefer not to talk about this subject and I am curious as to why they hold this opinion.  Something like this seems like it could be kind of important for philosophical discussion and it would be useful to me as a student to simply help fill in another part of my education.  I thought we were supposed to become “well-rounded” through undergraduate education and this is why all of those pointless general education requirements are set, yet there is this entire Other side of thought that never seems to be discussed.  How in the world can I be well-rounded without this side too?

If the world would leave me alone to study for a while I’d probably be much more knowledgeable and able to back this up in a more thorough manner, but until then I’ll just have to moonlight as the Other branch with the day job of Rationalist.