Koestler's Darkness at Noon

Posted on 2017-11-24 Friday 01:38 PM

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“Satan, on the contrary, is thin, ascetic and a fanatical devotee of logic. He reads Machiavelli, Ignatius of Loyola, Marx and Hegel; he is cold and unmerciful to mankind, out of a kind of mathematical mercifulness. He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him: to become a slaughterer, in order to abolish slaughtering, to sacrifice lambs so that no more lambs may be slaughtered, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it--an abstract and geometric love.”

                Koestler’s Darkness at Noon creates a feeling of unease that other books try but fail to achieve. In this scene, the main character, Rubashov, sits in a prison cell the morning after seeing an old comrade dragged to his execution. Ivanov, the head of the prison, is sitting on the end of Rubashov’s bed, explaining the reasoning behind executions and their insignificance in the course of history. No other book I have read addresses the conflict between logic and emotion/human experience as well as this scene.

                At the age of 77, Koestler was found dead in his house in London. He had married three times, and his last wife, in her 50s, had committed suicide with him, overdosing on barbiturate tablets. Both had been members of a right to die with dignity group and Koestler was thought to have lukemia and dementia.

                For an unsettling perspective on the concept of the “greater good”, and a clear description of what drives people in power to commit what would normally be considered evil acts, Darkness at Noon is peerless.


Happiness in the Struggle

Posted On 2017-11-20 Monday 01:30 PM

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La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d'homme; il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.

The fight itself towards the summits suffices to fill a heart of man; it is necessary to imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus

                A video from robot engineers, Boston Dynamics, went viral last week. It shows a robot jumping onto ledges and backflipping off the biggest, balancing itself upright upon landing. The link is below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRj34o4hN4I

                Sisyphus was King of Ethra in Greek mythology. For deceitfulness, the gods punished him for eternity by setting him the task of rolling a large boulder up a hill, only to see it roll down to the bottom each time he reached the summit. Any type of unproductive and laborious work is now referred to as a Sisyphean task.

                Albert Camus wrote the above quote above Sisyphus. He suggested that happiness is to be found in the struggle, so Sisyphus must feel some happiness in his never-ending task. The reward is the effort itself.  

                Robotics is advancing quickly and robots will take over much of our work. When we have the option not to work, as robots are doing it for us, will we find a different way to exert effort and find happiness? We already seem to on our bodies for health and beauty. Camus would nod with recognition if he could see people in gyms, lifting heavy things and putting them down.

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Death and Happiness

Posted On 2017-08-28 Monday 07:50 AM

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Essay Review: Michel De Montaigne, That Our Happiness Must Not Be Judged Until After Our Death

“No man should be called happy till his death;

Always we must await his final day,

Reserving judgement till he’s laid away.”

Ovid

                In this essay, De Montaigne discusses the potential for a bad death to ruin a life of happiness and goodness and for a good death to make people forget a life of badness and regret. His point is that on one day, the judgement of whether a life was a happy one can change.

                He describes the fickleness of fortune and the unpredictability of contentment. We do not know what will happen, and we know even less about what will make us happy or sad. All we can do follow an instinct towards a sense of quality, a belief that somethings have more value than others.

                 

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Vast Areas of Permafrost are Melting

Posted On 2017-08-23 Wednesday 10:33 AM

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The New York Times has published an interactive map of permafrost in Alaska as an example of the changes currently happening in Arctic regions.

The changes are dramatic and fast. Huge areas of permafrost are now unfrozen and releasing the carbon stored in the frozen ground. This carbon is adding to the climate change caused by human activity.

The term ‘tipping point’ is used in systems theory to describe when a positive feedback unbalances a system and leads to rapid change. Even if humanity limits the carbon it releases into the atmosphere, it appears the changes that are already happening will release more carbon anyway.

Climate change is not new in the history of Earth and life has persisted through extreme conditions before, but the speed of the current climate change is disastrous for the human species.

 

For the full report, see the link to the New York Times below.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/23/climate/alaska-permafrost-thawing.html

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Delusions of Power

Posted On 2017-08-21 Monday 11:48 AM

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Selected Excerpt

“It seemed dreadful to see the great beast, lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.”

 

In Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell reveals the truth about power. The powerful are anonymous. When someone is elected president, or prime minister, or promoted into a leadership role, their power to change things is limited.

Whether the leaders of the most powerful countries in the world decide to act against air pollution makes no difference if individual, seemingly powerless citizens refuse to act.

Orwell writes:

In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me,

showing us the connection between importance and hate. Showing us how perceived importance, whether by the individual or others, leads to behaviour that people detest.

Shooting an Elephant is a difficult essay to finish because of the brutal death of the creature. Orwell’s focus on breathing and suffocation bring the sense of helplessness we often feel when we think about life and death.

 

Link to Full Essay

http://www.orwell.ru/library/articles/elephant/english/e_eleph

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Caravaggio’s Blood

Posted On 2017-08-17 Thursday 10:10 AM

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Contributor: Jin 

In 1606, the painter Caravaggio killed Ranuccio Tomassoni in a brawl. He was exiled and fled to Naples. In 1608, he painted The Beheading of John the Baptist and with the carmine blood spilling from John’s head, he signed his own name.

                In the last few days, an alt-right activist killed Heather Heyer by driving into her with his car. Nationalists, fascists, and anti-fascists were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee. Lee was well respected on both sides of the American Civil War and had been offered a position in the Union army. As a southerner, he felt he had to reject it, and fought for the Confederacy. People sometimes think of slavery, the fight for freedom, as one of the main factors of the Civil War and, therefore, think of Lee’s decision to fight for the Confederacy as a pro-slavery choice. Lee was pro-slavery. Even after the Civil War ended, he defended it. George Washington was also a slave owner. So was Thomas Jefferson.

                In WW2, the Nazi party was surprised by the American reaction to European racism when in the US itself was sending segregated units to fight.

                In every case, and in all cases, there are things to praise and criticise. It is only in a fantasy Hollywood dream-world that good guys are always good and bad guys are always bad.

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Brain Plasticity: The secret of life is have no fear

Posted On 2017-08-16 Wednesday 07:07 AM

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Contributor: Sarah Syers

Research on the plasticity of the brain is leading to greater understanding of how we develop and change over time. A troubling example of recent years is how porn seems to desensitize the brain by increasing the threshold for the release of pleasure-related chemicals such as dopamine. The effect is so strong that over-use of porn can cause psychological impotence, but the brain is flexible enough to ‘reset’ over a period time without stimulation.

New research is revealing more about how this ‘plasticity’ works, and the ability for the brain to “birth” new cells seems to play a fundamental role.

In one area of the brain -  the Hippocampus, which is involved with memory – exercise and some antidepressants cause the creation of new cells and stress slows the creation of new brain cells.

More cells = more control, so neuron activity is slightly quieter when more of these cells are created. And more activity leads to more intense emotions such as fear. In other words, more exercise means less fear and                   anxiety.  

 

Links for Further Information

 

http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/mp2017134a.html?foxtrotcallback=true

 https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/adult-brain-s-fear-hq-can-grow-new-cells

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