Philo B'fast round-table fragments from Spring 2000:
7 April --- Politics & International Law:
- The late Julian Simon's collected writings: interesting contrarian views of economics and politics, but (especially visible in the preface to the book) much bitterness at having been ignored, misunderstood, and maligned.
- "Is it OK to nuke your own people?" What should be the reaction of other countries to genocide, atrocities, or other "internal" activities in a nation?
- "Cultural differences" excuse some differences in laws and customs in various countries --- but can one draw a line beyond which people can't be allowed to go?
- A classic argument against public sewers: "everybody has the right to struggle" ... Social Darwinism, Herbert Spencer et al.
- Deterrence works especially well for a demonstrably crazy person who has the power to make hugely destructive, credible threats.
- What are the real international "sources of power"? Consider:
- economic productivity (capital investment + human workforce strength)
- technological savvy (creativity + education)
- natural resources
- democracy (political stability + openness)
14 April --- Secrets & Society:
- Rôle of intelligence (e.g., "spying"): not to be the first to find out and report on something, but rather to be the first to understand it --- so that policymakers can be prepared for important events, and governments can act more (nearly) rationally.
- Risk of false alarms: "cry wolf" too often and be ignored when there's a real threat.
- "Gather/scatter" is a common and critical operation in computer science (pull together disparate data elements, massage them, and then route them out again) --- is there an analogous need to "gather & scatter knowledge?
- Where do large-scale creativity and technological productivity come from? For instance, why did supercomputers arise in the US and not elsewhere? Was it just because Seymour Cray happened to be born there? Did advanced computer technology need cross-fertilization from many areas to develop, and that kind of interdisciplinary interaction existed mainly in the US? Was manufacturing know-how and quality control an essential element in which the US had strength?
- Demythologization --- when secrets are revealed, the mystique is gone and some things become harder to do. Is that good or bad?
- John Rawls and metrics for a just society: should one maximize the average outcome for people over the whole nation? Or maximize the minimum (i.e., raise the floor for the worst-off members)? Or minimize the maximum (i.e., soak the rich)?
- What if democracy and freedom made a society poorer --- would we still choose them? That is, are democracy and freedom good in and of themselves, or are they just means to achieve greater wealth?
- What is the "unstable equilibrium between freedom and power"?
- Will technology decentralize life? Is technology the savior or the villain?
21 April --- Libertarianism:
- "He was correct but I was right!" --- the difference between being narrowly correct and having large-scale good judgment
- Authority vs. Jurisdiction --- geospatial boundaries within which powers are allocated and limited
- Virginia Postrel's "The Future and Its Enemies" --- kinder, gentler libertarianism? ... Friedrich von Hayek ... Hilary Putnam ...
- "Use" vs. "Give" : the distinction between temporary loans and permanent transfers --- how can it be applied to information? This is related to the tug-of-war between control & productivity ... between minimizing risk & accomplishing the mission
- Key challenge: ask good questions --- and then reinterpret them to make them better questions
28 April --- Technofuturism:
- Is technology a juggernaut --- inexorably moving forward, destroying everything under its wheels?
- What's the future (if any) of humanity? Will people be replaced by machines?
- Recent readings: Konrad Lorentz On Aggression ... Charles L. Mee A Nearly Normal Life ... John Seely Brown & Paul Daguid ... Howard Gardner ... David Berlinski The Advent of the Algorithm
- Things are much better now than 50 years ago, and much better here than in (many? any?) other countries ... so why do we kvetch so much?
- The seductions of over-quantification: "if you can't measure it, it's not real" when thinking about non-quantifiable things
- "Engineers are like computers --- garbage in, garbage out!"
Thanks to the usual crew --- GdM, AP, JJ, JC, BW, BD, JB, et al. --- for countless ideas and commentary.
Tuesday, July 18, 2000 at 21:56:45 (EDT) = Datetag20000718
(see QuestionsWithoutAnswers2 and QuestionsWithoutAnswers3, etc.)
TopicPhilosophy - TopicPersonalHistory
(correlates: TemporalUtilitarianism, 1 Comment on EssentialKnowledge, HappyEndings, ...)