Saturday, March 26, 2005

Re-animator

I initially resisted the temptation to write about the Terri Schiavo case because only a small minority wants to keep her body alive. However, I still haven't heard the case of the majority spelled out in any detail.

For the record, it has been consistently demonstrated in the 10 legal cases on this issue that Terri Schiavo is completely brain-dead. Her brain has virtually liquefied. There is no hope of her ever regaining consciousness, with or without impaired capacity. The medical case is not at issue here.

Some ask what the harm is in letting the family keep Terri alive. Terri can't feel any pain or anguish, and she isn't aware that she's being a burden on the living, so why not give custody of Terri to her parents?

I've devised a few thought experiments that I think will illuminate the real issues at stake here.


  1. Suppose that a loved one is injured in an accident and becomes brain-dead. The accident victim never expressed any views on the issue of indefinite life support. However, you don't believe your loved one is truly alive anymore, and you give the order to discontinue life support for the body.

    Is it acceptable that someone else might then take custody of the body over your objections? Would it be appropriate for someone else to take that body and keep it alive indefinitely? Can they put it on display? What would it be like to have other people (perhaps people you don't know) toying with the remains of your loved one as if it were a flesh and blood wax replica?

  2. Suppose that we could keep human bodies on life support without the head being present (this may even be possible). Is it appropriate to keep a corpse alive in this manner? What purposes might justify such action? Organ banks? Perhaps artificial re-animation. We might one day learn how to build some sort of artificial head with a neural-link computer that would reactivate the body and give it consciousness again. It wouldn't have the experiences or personality of the original human, but it would be living, thinking person again.

  3. If we could re-animate dead people, what rights should a person have to reactivate someone they are not related to?


The Schiavo case is really a question of what is appropriate public access to our remains after we die.

Once dead, I really shouldn't care what happens to my body. However, I think it would be outrageous for someone to use my body in a way that causes pain or anguish to the people I care for most. I strongly object to the possibility that someone could forcibly take custody of my body from my wife after my brain died. I would consider such a seizure to be equivalent to graveyard desecration.

(Er... just in case this comes up, I would also strongly object to the possibility of having my body be re-animated to perform tasks that I would have opposed while alive.)

Friday, March 25, 2005

Numenta

A few months ago, I reviewed Jeff Hawkins' book On Intelligence. Now, Jeff has taken the next logical step: he has founded a new company to build artificial intelligences based on his theories about how the brain works.

The new company, Numenta, sounds like a very cool place to work. And I rarely even contemplate actually working for a living!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Laziness as a virtue

I'm not lazy in general. The reason for my dearth of blog posts is due to the fact that I'm working some serious hours on a big project. However, I do believe in the maxim "never do anything today that you can put off until tomorrow." I learned this in high school where the requirements of long-term assignments would get changed due to the pathetic pleadings of other students, in the process, nullifying my head start.

I've been thinking lately about the psychology of the debate over the role of government. Emotionally, I think that laziness and boredom might have a lot to do with my positions. There are lots of things that just don't interest me. Like most people, I find it extremely difficult to work on something I'm totally apathetic about.

Take retirement plans. Please. Boring, tedious and dull. Filling in forms and reading fund prospectuses are like watching paint dry. I might even prefer watching paint dry. Anyway, there are many chores in society that I would really rather avoid. That's where government comes in. Highway planning, agricultural subsidies, retirement plans, tax collection, zoning, vaccinations, etc. All necessary, all worthwhile, but really, all I want to know is that they're getting done.

For me, government is something that should just work in the background. I pay taxes so that all the things society needs to keep running just happen without me really having to think about it. If I pay a bit more so I can do a bit less, I'm okay with that. Every year or two or four, we audit government performance and elect the officials who will do the best job. I can handle that much.

Not only is this emotionally satisfying, it also makes a lot of sense. If I wanted to take personal responsibility for the traditional role of government, I'd have to spend 20% of my time working as a bureaucrat, hiring private sector firms to do what government does today. Like most people, I don't want to be a bureaucrat. Not that there's anything wrong with being one. It's just that I would rather have that 20% of my life back so I can have a social life, take vacations or work at my real job. It's simply inefficient to have every adult in the country duplicate the same tasks of governance.

Besides, when people aren't interested in the work, they do a bad job. The private sector firms that would replace the government would not be more cost effective. In fact their role would be that of extracting money (for profit) from the public. Private companies are also not transparent like the government.

So why do libertarians and right-wingers want to get rid of the government? I don't think they have a compelling case intellectually, though I'm certain I would agree with them that certain things should be returned to the private sector. But psychologically, what's the appeal?

Are libertarians fastidious when it comes to chores and housework? Are they control freaks who want to do everything for themselves? Do they want to know where every penny goes? Are they more likely than average to return an item to the store, despite the hassle involved? None of these qualities are bad, but I wonder if there's a correlation between these qualities and where one falls on the political spectrum.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I Want My Templeton Prize

Charles Townes invented a very intense beam of light known as a "laser". He also just won the Templeton Prize for "progress in spiritual knowledge". What the blazes is spiritual knowledge anyway?

I'm not saying Townes should return the $1.5 million. If fools want to throw money down the drain, that's their prerogative. However, he should use the money to buy a book on the Big Bang. If he had any clue what the Big Bang actually is, he wouldn't be talking about its causes.

Ya see, this is the reason why logical positivism is important. LP tells you when you're deluding yourself and speaking utter nonsense. The Templeton Prize has wasted millions of dollars on a linguistic mistake, on meaningless nonsense.

Now that I think about it, I should win the prize. Talk about progress in spiritual knowledge. Demonstrating that there's no such thing as spiritual knowledge deserves at least $1.5 million.

Cat Shoots Owner

It's too early to tell if it was self-defense, but it seems that cats are prone to this sort of behavior.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

As I was saying...

Hidden in today's so-called "analysis" ("Mideast strides lift Bush") from in the Washington Post:

"We're getting ahead of ourselves," said Mara Rudman, senior vice president for strategic planning at the Center for American Progress. And the more Bush takes credit, she added, the more counterproductive it will be to genuine popular movements that do not want to be associated with Americans. "Frankly, if we really care about helping the forces of reform in the region, the best way to do it is without our fingerprints."

...

"If Bush fails to comprehend those subtle nuances, and makes the fatal mistake of arrogantly portraying a Syrian withdrawal in Lebanon as a personal triumph for himself in his 'War on Terror' and his 'Spreading Democracy' campaign -- the fruits may turn out to be very bitter indeed," Ray Close, a former CIA officer who served in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, wrote in an analysis sent to colleagues. "We are again tampering here with a very fragile structure."

Monday, March 07, 2005

Mid-East Peace.
Shall we thank Michael Jackson?

The Bush administration is known for its reluctance to admit mistakes. They'll never take responsibility when things go wrong, but when something good happens, gangway!

The bumbling press is stepping up to give Bush credit for the pro-democratic transformations taking place in the Middle-East. It's hard to believe that the press is capable of such infantile analysis. The Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have more to do with the Michael Jackson trial than they do with Bush's foreign policy.

The Syrian pull-out is the direct result of the assassination of Lebanon's popular Rafik Hariri. Whether or not Syria is responsible for the car bombing, the Lebanese people hold them so. It is this popular uprising combined with world condemnation that is spurring the Syrian withdrawal. Bush's Iraq policy has nothing to do with the withdrawal proposal, but, however, his belligerency threatens it. Why is it that at the very moment Syria decides to withdraw, Bush steps up the rhetoric? This kind of policy doesn't even work on house pets.

Meanwhile, the progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is the result of Yassir Arafat's departure from the scene. Arafat was corrupt and blocked the peace process for many years. Now that he is out of the picture, progress is being made. None of this activity has anything to do with recent U.S. action in the region. In fact, with U.S. credibility as a peace broker destroyed by Bush, the U.S. has been forced to watch peace negatiations from afar.

Bush's policies have been and still are a failure. He deserves no credit for progress made in spite of his klutzy foreign policy.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Fairness Trumps Loyalty

Loyalty is a difficult concept. I've been thinking about the subject since this morning. I'm not sure why. I must have heard a crime story on the news and wondered whether someone was protecting the criminal out of some misplaced sense of loyalty.

I think that fairness trumps loyalty. If one's friend causes harm to someone else, one may still have obligations to that friend (easing their pain, getting them help, etc.), but one doesn't have an obligation to obstruct justice in the name of friendship. It's a simple application of the Golden Rule.

This isn't to say that there's no gray area. If the misdeed is small and its harm is diluted over a large number of people, one doesn't have to peach to the peelers about the infraction. However, one does have an obligation to take some corrective action. Even minor offenses may warrant a hard stare.

I'll stop here lest I write a 12-page manuscript on the subject.