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An Atheist’s Perspective: The Objective Perspective

October 29, 2013 2 comments

In the book “Sophie’s World,” the mysterious philosopher Alberto poses a situation to Sophie, he explains that if a family were eating a meal and all of the sudden the father began floating toward the ceiling the mother would probably begin screaming while the small child would either think it was funny or just comment that “daddy was flying.” Alberto asks why the difference between the two reactions, and his answer is that the mother knows the rules. The rules are that gravity is a constant and people can’t fly. The fear reaction in her is because something is extremely wrong and she probably doesn’t know why it is happening. The child on the other hand does not realize why daddy is flying, just that he is, and its amusing. She doesn’t understand that he’s not supposed to fly but probably wonders when she gets to. It’s an odd thing but as adults we get so used to the way that things are done that we merely accept them as being the way of the world. An event which violates this catches our attention because we not only want to know what is happening but also why.

The child merely sees a thing happening and wants to know why, but the crucial difference is that they don’t have the rest of the baggage. They don’t have a thought in their head in which they ought not to question, questioning is in their nature because they aren’t used to things. Habit, experience, will eventually kill that but we kill it also when we tell them that we ought not to ask questions, or that it is wrong to ask questions, etc.

What is most troubling about this is that there is no objective reason that anyone at anytime should not be able to question anything. Perhaps, we might say that there is a better time to ask, but that is a matter of politeness concerned more with social convention than with the question itself. We ought to encourage propriety without discouraging inquisition.

What I see as my role as a parent is the frustration of dealing with an endless barrage of questions that will not end and becomes increasingly uncomfortable because I simply cannot explain why that person is flying. I’m going to say this much, appealing to the divine hand is both lazy and dishonest. In some ways I do envy those parents that are religious because anything that they do not know can be explained in this way. It’s tempting, but for me there is no equivalent methods, but the temptation is because it’s difficult to admit to a five year old (the age of my daughter) that I don’t understand something that I am making her do.

She takes a martial arts class, and the class requires her to bow on the way in to the building, and then once again on the way on to the mat. She has asked me why exactly she is bowing, and honestly I have no idea. Her instructors say it’s a sign of respect, but I have no idea how. It’s one of those things that seems to be something that everyone expects so it becomes a rule. She asks why.

Explaining things to her in order to answer the questions makes me confront the concept at the core. It makes me wonder if I believe the thing that I am saying or if I am merely parroting what I have been told. I confronted the same issue when I had to explain to her why people have death ceremonies the way that they do. Back then I had to explain that people have different ideas about death and the afterlife, if I had to explain the whole deal about death, resurrection, and all of the other myths that are associated with the Catholic religion I would be merely parroting what I had been taught. The difference is that I would not be telling her to believe as well and I could not imagine having to explain the various stories that come with it, because when she asks why I would have no idea how to answer. At a certain point even the appeal to the hand of god cannot be enough, a person would have to go out of their way to shut down that inquisitiveness that is natural to all people but more pronounced in the young.

That natural sense of wonder will eventually leave on its own, why ought we create a situation in which we will hasten its demise? Why use the spectre of sin, reverence, or the mystical in an effort to thwart our own ignorance? We do this because do not want the rules of our own lives, the ones that we have been living with to change. It would be a great effort to live in a world in which we realize that one of our fundamental principles is wrong and the we have to adjust our world view.

My Three Year Old

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Every once in awhile I try and write something about Gwendolyn that reflects her development or maybe just an odd story about how much of a manipulative little con artist she’s become. Being three years old, it feels like it’s different. She’s already attained the basic requirements of being a person while the only thing left to her is the general education of learning things.

I suppose it’s one of those bittersweet moments, because i realize know that she really is a person. She simply won’t do things just because I want to do them. Sometimes she refuses because she would rather do something else and sometimes she refuses on principle. The principle being that she simply doesn’t want to. As I write this, Gwen is playing by herself with one of her dolls desperately trying to get one of the shoes on in much the same way I desperately forced her to put a shoe on before school this morning.

Being three also means that the “terrible twos” are over. I’m still shrugging my shoulders and twisting my face to figure out why they are called that. They simply weren’t that terrible. I’ve often wondered this past year as to where the bad part was supposed to be. Sure, sometimes she was a monster but most of the time it was just her being a two year old. Most of our conflict came when she didn’t want to eat but it was dinner time. The resolution: a compromise, she didn’t have to eat but she had to sit at the table while everyone else ate. It was simple after all, she wasn’t going to starve to death and yelling at her wasn’t going to work so she could be bored and sit there. I think the kids that scream and cry at two just need an outlet. Some way to channel all of the energy. Gwen just talks, and talks, and talks, and talks; but she was never a terrible two year old despite my complaints.

Objectively, she never panicked or freaked out in public. She’s yet to throw a tantrum in my presence outside the house. This is probably because I’ve socialized her. When there’s no school, it’s her and I. I, cannot stay in as I get stir crazy especially with her. Just me alone, I can read a book, write, or play a video game all day. The trouble is that with Gwen I can’t do those things. She won’t really let me read or write, and the video games I want to play are not for her. We’ve been trying to limit our television watching so I can’t just turn it on and let her sit…in fact, I don’t want to do that. We go out, we talk to people and go to the museum. Most often we go to the coffee shop where she sits in her chair and draws for a couple of hours. Then asks me for my cell phone so she can play games on it (it’s a WP7 which for a phone OS is horrifyingly kid easy).

Gwen has started school though, preschool–or maybe pre pre-school. I’m not sure because it seems really early but going to school is necessary for her. Not to learn the things she is going to learn: she knows her letters (but not the sounds they make), she knows the numbers, she can count, and she knows her colors; but because she needs to learn about people. I know that I said she’s pretty socialized but that’s with older people. Aside from her cousins she doesn’t hang out with kids. School will give her that, but it’s kind of sad to have her go. She won’t be my partner anymore. She’ll have friends her age and I’ll probably not like them or something. As sick of each other as we get (and believe me it’s a two way street) for the longest time during the day it really was just her and I, until mommy woke up and then it was like I wasn’t there until story time. I’ll miss that, but I’m also relieved. Because even though our time is over, it does mean that she is developing her own wants and desires. She’ll have friends and those friends will have secrets that I won’t know about.

She’s not a baby anymore she’s a kid. She’s self aware. I once wrote that the difference between AI as normally conceived in science fiction and true AI is not whether a computer can play chess, but whether it wants to. If Deep Blue, just resigns a game because it doesn’t really “feel it” that day, that would be a self aware sentient AI as opposed to something that is roughly akin to a powerful calculator. That’s Gwen now, she either wants to do something or doesn’t whereas before she wanted to do whatever was suggested to her. It was either go to the library or the store and they were both fine (although she did have a preference sometimes). Now she may not want either, but some third choice.

Her latest thing is dinosaurs. Which is super cool, because I like dinosaurs, or at least I do again. Mostly this is from the PBS show “Dinosaur Train,” one of those shows that Conservatives think are destroying America. It’s a good show, they have an actual PhD as the host explaining which dinosaur is which, and why science thinks they behaved one way or the other. It’s up to date as it gets, as they’ve even put feathers on the velociraptors. Mostly we watch it then I chase Gwen down pretending to eat her like a Tyrannosaurus Rex (which sadly, may have been a scavenger).

She’s definitely one of the best people I know in the world and she’s only three. Happy Birthday Kid.

Categories: Gwendolyn

Random Topic Friday or My Attempt to Get Back to Three Updates Per Week

July 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Topic 1: Gwen’s new method.

People always tell me I’m in big trouble with Gwen when she gets older. I disagree, I’m in trouble now. She’s gorgeous and cunning, what’s worse is that she possesses both self-awareness of these traits and a certain moral ambivalence about using them. She twirls her hair, spins on her toes, all in an effort to get something that she’s clearly not going to get otherwise. She’s also been changing up her phrases to endear herself. What’s the difference between these two sentences:

1) Daddy I would like some chocolate milk yeah? (while nodding her head)
2) Can I have…some chocolate milk my daddy?

She uses “my daddy” when she wants to get something or go somewhere. My daughter is extremely clever at pulling those heart strings like some marionette. It can be really difficult to tell her no sometimes. I actually worry for her future boyfriends.

Topic 2: Ann Coulter and the Tea Party

Ann Coulter expressed surprise (feigned I’m sure) that there were 500,000 less government employees under Obama than there were under Bush. Her surprise was directed at the fact that there at least 500,000 government employees. This was on Real Time with Bill Maher, and she asked why we couldn’t go back to Washington times with an extremely limited number of federal employees. I’ve heard this notion from Tea Party spokespeople on the radio, once in awhile of course. There are times when me and my liberal-atheist-socialist-islamofascist conspirators slips up and let them on our propaganda radio stations. They keep talking about how we ought to return the government back to it’s founding principles and the time that it was founded in.

I have respect for Ann Coulter, while I almost completely disagree with her she’s got the chops as a writer. You can at least follow her argument and while one of her books “Treason” was founded on a false equivalence it made logical sense. Yet this standpoint from her and people like her, that we ought to return to this type of government is not a sound system. Essentially they want to apply an 18th century solution to a 21st century series of problems. While I have great respect for the founders of this government and the core principles surrounding the constitution there are certain public institutions that cannot be privatized as they would have it.

The central fallacy is that certain government programs are going to lose money. Every aspect of the criminal justice system is going to be a money sink hole. Education is a sink hole, you lose money paying staff but then you are supposed to make money in the long run off of what you produce in education. The defense department doesn’t make money either and privatizing its function, even parts of it, is not a good idea.

I understand that there is quite a lot of bloat in the government and plenty of overlap. I understand the need to make some cuts, but going back to a time when most of the navy was occupied by privateers is not a valid solution. Think about it from this analogy, our medical costs are out of control should we return to a 1776 medical practice in order to curb them? It sure cost a lot less to care for people then? Then again I probably just have too much blood in my system, or maybe it’s black bile or the other bile (I forget which one causes the vapors).

While I’m normally one to just rip apart other people’s ideas without offering a suggestion I’ll offer one here. Why not return the tax rate to what it was under Reagan (praise be unto him). While at the same time ending the ability of corporations to do business here but headquarter themselves in foreign countries to avoid taxes, couldn’t this done by making them pay an import tax since essentially these alleged “job creators” aren’t American businesses. If a car company is located in Detroit but builds parts in Mexico, they should be taxed when they bring their parts in. This would not only make American jobs more competitive with their underpaid foreign workers, but would also increases revenue.

My other problem is the absurd defense of private jet owners. If they can afford the plane they can afford the tax. Some defenders like to talk about how many jobs the building of these jets create, but they don’t complain that we just scuttled the shuttle program. If a jet creates 10 jobs then the freekin’ space shuttle ought to create a whole bunch more.

But hold on, I have to take an elixir distilled of lead and pomegranate to fight this headache I have. 

Categories: Gwendolyn, politics

End Life

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Yesterday I commented to another Grad Student that I knew that my life was over when Gwen became mobile. That actually isn’t true upon further thought but there were some aspects of her growth thus far that have been, what I call, “Life enders.” Once these various thresholds were reached the world was now different. I couldn’t go through my daily routine as i had been used to anymore because of this change. Somehow life didn’t change as much as I thought it would previously but since people like list format here they are in order.

Birth: Obviously this was the big one. No longer could I recklessly pursue things anymore I actually had some responsibility over a thing that could not take care of itself. Although in retrospect it seemed more like she was a new roommate than anything else. She just slept alot, ate more frequently but less in amount, produced more dirty dishes than I was used to, ate weird food, and had tiny tiny clothes. She cried alot too, but it spoonful of mush usually quieted her down.

Rolling: Up until the rolling phase Gwen’s life pretty much rotated between Laura holding her and myself holding her. Once in awhile we’d lay her on the ground for “tummy time” in order to prevent some misshaping of the head or something I really can’t remember but she hated it. When I would go to the kitchen, or do dishes, or go outside, or do something that required my movement it was this large ordeal. I had to figure out where to put her and then do it. Then one day, out of busyness, laziness, and frustration I just said “screw it” and laid her on the middle of the floor. Lo and behold it worked and a new day was dawn. The day where I realized just how incapable of doing anything she was. She had the strength to move herself forward but she didn’t know how to do it. Then one day I laid her on the floor, went to the kitchen, came back and she was gone! For five seconds I was terrified and then I realized that she couldn’t get far. I heard her under the couch, where she rolled. Laura, being home at the time just laughed and clapped because Gwen learned to roll around. I knew that now I would actually have to pay attention to her when I was doing other things.

Crawling: Then again, rolling isn’t so bad. Because all you have to do is put two large barriers on either side of her and she is trapped. Back to watching tv for me! Place her on a large blanket, two large pillows on one side, the wall on another, and she would giggle herself to a frenzy, or cry herself to a frenzy or whatever. No danger=baby learning. The only trouble is that when Baby gets bored she learns new things like how to move vertically. I was there when she first crawled, it was cute because I was trying to teach her. Now however the “floor plan” doesn’t work exactly as with great effort she can get over the pillows. Although she wasn’t exactly a ninja about it, and grunted like a flabbergasted old man at the gas pump. Normally she would get to the end of a wall and i would just pick her up, turn her around and she would go the other way.

Walking: the difference between walking and crawling isn’t in mobility, it’s in competence. After a while Gwen got pretty good at crawling, so much so that things she knocked over were knocked over on purpose. I began calling her “The Hurricane,” not after the storm but after that shitty Denzel Washington movie that left movie theaters as desolate wastelands. There are many pictures of her going through a room just knocking stuff over as if to say, “because I can.” However, it’s really hard to be bad at crawling. Even if you fall down you don’t have very far to go and it’s almost impossible to generate the speed necessary to hurt yourself while crawling. Walking is different. No one, ever, works as hard at anything as a baby does at learning to walk. If adults had to work that hard at something it wouldn’t get done. The problem is that Gwen’s learning to walk was associated with falling. No longer could I pretend that she was going to be ok, she wouldn’t be. Falling is easy because gravity is default. And for some reason babies always fall toward corners. When she was stumbling around like a drunk at 4am everyone had to watch. Because they watched she had to wave and show off. After awhile though the fear of collision abates and you just have to make sure she isn’t going anywhere you don’t want her to. For the most part a closed door will do.

Opening Doors: Until today. Normally when it was nap time I would close the door in her room and listen to her talk for an hour or so. Then quiet. Today I heard a peculiar noise that i attributed to the cat. Then I turned a corner and saw the little monster running back through the hallway and into her room. I closed the door, I always close the door for the reason that I want her to sleep and I can do dishes, study, or write pointless blog posts. Remember in Jurassic Park when the Raptors figured out how to open the doors, that’s how I felt when I saw her. This is when the life really ends, she is not only mobile but can surmount obstacles. Good job you little monster you’ve just made nap time a surprise.

Categories: Gwendolyn

Location Anxiety

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ll be taking a course in a week or so, that has in its description “introduction to Philosophy of Geography.” I am perplexed enough to be curious and since this is a sub-subject (if that’s a word) of a class that I should take anyway, I am going to bite down for this one. The fact that I am not familiar with professor is only encouraging as the only other time that this subject has been broached was in a guest lecture given the first time I was in Grad school, and I hated it. Not the subject but the lecturer, who was more about us being witness to his genius rather than actually trying to teach something (you can do both, I have experience ;-).

Today, I am more encouraged to take the course because of a series of conversations that I have been having with Gwendolyn. The trouble is that I was told the little creatures aren’t supposed to be this inquisitive for another six months but here we are. Anyway, the first scene takes place in a parking lot behind the coffee shop where she is a favored customer and I am her chauffeur.

“I want go outside,” she says, remember we are actually standing next to the car walking toward the coffee shop, i.e. already outside.

“Well Gwen, we are outside.”

“Want go outside?” (this time the tonal inflection at the end indicates this is a question as in “how come we are not going outside?” or “why can’t we go outside?” )

“No, see Gwen, already we are outside. This isn’t like getting more chocolate in your milk, we can’t get further outside.”

“Want outside.” (she’s reverted back to making declarative sentences, in other words she wants to go outside and I’m just not doing it because I’m a jerk or whatever)

“No Gwen, it’s not actually possible for us to go outside, because we are already outside. There isn’t a door we can open and walk out of to get out of the outside, the only thing we can do is go inside. Unless you want to build a rocket ship and go outside of the planet, but even then we would have to go inside the rocket so I don’t think that is what you mean.”

“Outside,” (no she’s giving me the big eyes. The ones that get her free stuff everywhere we go and the reason I advise people to not stare directly at her when she’s asking a question)

“Well we have to go inside right now so I guess you’re just out of luck.”

“Out of luck” she likes to repeat things.

So we are in the coffee shop. After she says hi to her friends and we find a table to sit down she takes three gallon deep chugs of her drink, plays with my wallet, her ‘colors’ (silly bands), and then looks at me, “Want to go coffee shop.”

“You want to leave?”

“No, go coffee shop.”

“We’re already in the coffee shop.”

(she takes both of her hands grabs my cheeks and pulls my forehead to hers) “Coffee shop.”

“Gwen, unless this place opens a coffee shop in the bathroom of their already existing coffee shop again it’s not really possible, although this is Starbucks so that may be possible.”

Nodding, “Coffee Shop.”

My wife, Laura, seems to think that Gwen is not asking to go anywhere but is merely stating what we’ve already done. So when she says, “want to go coffee shop” she means that “we have already gone to the coffee shop.” That may be so, but I think things are much more fun this way. Plus it’s good practice in logical argumentation when you deal with someone that won’t accept reason or evidence as counter proof to their claims much like a Mac user, Creationist, or Marxist…the only difference is that Gwen isn’t even two yet.

On the Development of Language

May 1, 2010 Leave a comment

About a year ago, I wandered into the baby’s room because I heard a slight noise over the monitor. It wasn’t crying or any of the other myriad noises that babies will make. It sounded like a mew but it was slighter than that. Slowly, with carefulness and patience that I imagine bomb defusers operate with, I opened the door and took a glance over the sleeping little monkey. She had a delicate smile on her face and gently quivered in her crib. She repeated the noise which I then knew was a laugh, the odd thing to me at the time was that she was sleeping. Apparently she was having a dream and something in the dream made little Gwen laugh.

This puzzled me. I wondered what in the world could make someone with little to no experiences and the basic formulations of memory laugh while she was sleeping. Even more odd was the follow up question of what she could possibly be dreaming about. How can such a new thing dream?

The question resurfaces to me, because Gwen has gotten to the point where she now talks and talks and talks. Some of it, most of it, is some sort of basic understanding of English. She points at various things: her body parts, her toys, the television, the remote, and then calls out its name. Sometimes she makes the most basic constructions of what can be called sentences, most of these are commands to Laura or me about something that she wants to do that she needs us to do for her (“Watch Gabba,” “Watch Simpsons,” “More Chocolate Milk”).

According to a book I have on Linguistic Anthropology, she’s surpassed an actual monkey in language development. Her world is now more than just “food” there is specific food, her knowledge categories are larger and more precise. She’s not quite there yet, psychology has determined that it should be awhile before her language development is to the point where she can hold proper communication but sometimes psychology is less a science and more of a skill.

She’s holding conversations with the magic faeries that she always sees, much in the way that she used to stare at a white piece of paper with black shapes printed on it. When I put her down for a nap or for sleep, I can hear her talking, waiting, and then talking again sometimes it’s obviously to the stuffed animals in her crib or the large pictures of animals that adorn her room. Other times, I am utterly clueless as to what it is that she is saying or to whom she is addressing.

I think most of the time she is trying to reproduce what she hears us doing but is unable to either formulate the words or understand that each sound has its own intrinsic meaning. With very rare exception she can repeat almost any word that is spoken to her. Trying to trip her up, I am told, is a good game to play with her which also leads to some amusement as she butchers longer tri-syllabic phrases (Her “potato” sounds like “po-tow,” she misses the “t”s in “hippopotamus,” and don’t even ask me to explain what it is she does with “metaphysics”).

The odd conversations are bereft of any meaning that I can discern. Yet they hold her attention for so long that it must mean something to her. It sounds exactly like the language that Milla Jovovich spoke in the beginning of the 5th Element, so much so that I believe the film makers must have used baby talk as inspiration for it. I’ve also taken to calling her Lelu when she’s off on one of her monologues.

I’ve taken courses that attempted to explain the development of languages, read books on the history of language, have sat through logic courses…but all of that taught me nothing compared to watching it develop in a single person on their own. The worst thing about it is that when she will finally have the ability to explain what it was she was talking about she won’t have any idea what it means anymore.

Categories: Gwendolyn, philosophy

Linguistics

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

We’ve gotten to the point where Gwen is talking. Most of it is jibber-jabber but it’s definitely part of some conversation that only one of us understands. What makes it more interesting is to watch her get frustrated when she tells me something and I don’t respond correctly. It really got me thinking about how the little baby develops her language skills.

Sure the first word is a random sound that we interpret as having meaning. This isn’t really the first word it’s just the first sound that they make in a direction. It has to have reference and when that connection is made you can almost see the spark of a new emerging intelligence. Now she understands that the world isn’t just a random blur of shapes but that those shapes have an existence that is independent of her perception of them. Not to say that she has already developed object permanence, that comes later, but that the things she perceives have that aforementioned existence and also have meaning. They have names to which she is giving them in her own way.

This is probably the most creative that any of us has ever been. Free from being slaves to the language that we are born into which limits our expression. Gwen was naming things, then remembering what those things were and calling them whatever it was that she was saying. It was a true trial and error system to figure out what it was that she pointed to. Now, however she has moved past the language of things and into expressions of will. Thomas Hobbes said that what we deem “good” are the things that we find pleasurable/like and thus “bad” are those things that we dislike. Gwen is a good proof of this rudimentary concept as now she expresses with words what she used to by frantic pushing and crying.

On the one hand it makes things more calm when she doesn’t want applesauce she shakes her head and utters the word “no.” On the other hand she does it in a way that makes you feel dumb for asking. She’s been saying “no” for a little over a month now, only recently has she been nodding and saying “Ya.” This has made the job of deciphering her little language that much easier, she still gets frustrated when I don’t find the object that she is specifically asking for but she is a bit easier on me now that she sees that I am making progress.

Which is nice and ironic because it is her that is actually making the progress. The biggest leap for her will be to draw the connection between the sound I am making as I hand her the thing she has asked for linking that as the thing’s name. This will ultimately be our Rosetta stone, she has no real choice but to learn that language that she hears every day, necessity will motivate these connections in her little brain which is why immersion is the best way to learn a language.

It did make me wonder this: if aliens land on this planet the only way to really get the languages down pat is going to be to take an infant alien and an infant human and raise them together so that at least they will be talking to each other…that or geometric forumlas.

Categories: Gwendolyn