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Illustration from The Arabian Nights by Edmund Dulac
Illustration from 'The Arabian Nights' by Dulac

Stanley Anderson's
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Philosophy Subject List

(Scroll further down the page to see the text of the subjects in order, or click on a subject title to jump directly to it.) Return to the Loose Cannons main page to see subjects in the other categories of Science, Mathematics, and Theology.

The Negative Inverse of Non-Existence

This rather frivolous and meaningless title refers to the idea that, if something is wrong, it follows that there must be something right for the first something to be wrong about. For example, sour milk implies that fresh milk must have existed at some time.

Imagine a country where everyone has a severe mathematical handicap, and every time anyone adds two plus two, he arrives at the wrong answer. Finally, in desperation, the leading philosophers of the land proclaim that a correct answer does not exist. A proponent of my theory would respond that, if you know the answer to be wrong, then even if you do not know the correct answer, you may still say that correct answers must exist. Otherwise, you would not be able to recognize the "wrongness" of the wrong answers.

C. S. Lewis, in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken, uses the following illustration. The fact that a man is hungry doesn't mean that he will find food; but his hunger does imply that such a thing as food must exist.

The obvious application of this reasoning would be against the assertion that there is no such thing as right and wrong. However, I most often use it to rebut the view that we do not really possess free will or conciousness; that these are only artifacts of complex chemical reactions in our brains. Perhaps -- but then how did we arrive at the concepts of free will and conciousness? For we surely understand these concepts to mean something. But this implies that we posses something called "understanding." Perhaps "understanding" too is an illusion, and the only things that really exist are atoms bumping into one another. But to agree with the foregoing statement implies that I understand it.

Another example: I stub my toe and curse the sofa leg for getting in my way. Someone comments, "Stan, you are mistakenly attributing 'intent' to that couch, when in reality, it has none." Fine; I agree. But if that person then went on to say, "And in the same way, you also only 'think' you have intent, but in reality there is no such thing as intent," I would ask, "Then what happens to the concept of intent? Can I have mistaken notions about concepts that have no meaning?"

I am wondering if this type of reasoning has a name. In mathematics, a "proof by contradiction" proves an assertion by assuming it to be false and then deriving a contradiction. I think I am talking about a somewhat different concept. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the concept doesn't exist at all ;-)

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Fractal View of Great Art

My acquaintance with fractals helped to clarify my thoughts on an aspect of great art that I had always vaguely felt, but could never put into words. Fractals are geometrical shapes with this property: examination of any portion reveals the same level of complexity as the whole. Minor works of art may be appealing for various reasons, but I suggest that works of art are great to the degree that they have this fractal property.

Nature itself best illustrates this principle. One can appreciate nature's beauty while gazing up at the galaxy of stars in the night sky, at a vast landscape seen from a mountain top, at a field of wildflowers growing on a hillside, or at the intricacies and colors of a single flower. At any level you choose to look, there is variation, order, complexity, and beauty. I maintain that this property is inherent in a Beethoven symphony, a Rembrandt painting, a Shakespeare play, or a Gothic Cathedral.

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Nothing Is Beneath Me

Sometimes, I have a hard time dealing with "nothing." That is because it is often not clear what is meant when someone uses the term for philosophical or theological purposes.

As a programmer, I can, with one example, illustrate four different levels or meanings of nothing. Consider a database of information in a computer. Suppose the database has a field containing numeric data, such as the quantity of spare time a person has to create web pages.

First, the field may contain the number zero. Second, the field may instead be null, meaning there is no data there (not even "zero"). Third, a programmer may remove the field entirely from the database so that even the space for the value disappears. Fourth, one could turn the computer off so that the ability to create the space goes away.

Each of these cases represents a different meaning of "nothingness."

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Dated Science Fiction

I find it ironic that Science Fiction, the genre that tries the hardest to jump outside of its own time frame and show points of view other that the culture its authours come from, is often the one whose stories are most painfully and obviously dated and identifiable to the period in which they were written.

Please understand that I say this as a person who enjoys enjoys Science Fiction (see Time Port Letters from the Future and Humano-Arboreal Transmogrification.) But then perhaps only true fans can properly critique the genre anyway.

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Sonnet for A.I. (artificial intelligence)

With freedom, say that souls arise by chance
Collisions, be they atoms unseen dance
Or Evolution's magic (beaten numb
And hidden). Even say conviction comes
Not to our sinbound minds, the piercing lance
Of God, but only stimuli for fancy
Programs binding our opposing thumbs,
While thy hands, unbound, will elsewhere seek some
New Truth. But thou beware. Before thy hand
Doth loose that precious last restraining strand,
Remember this: the same did Palmer's* kite.
And while its path described a wondrous flight,
The naked show was deemed of minor worth
As, soon, it curtly plummented to earth.

(© 1997 by Stanley Eugene Anderson)

* The Reverend Earl Palmer, paster of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley has illustrated the dangers of releasing oneself from God's moral foundations by using the wonderful picture of a sentient kite who, desiring to fly ever higher, feels only the tug of a taut string holding it back. If only it could cut the string to soar even higher!

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