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Water Conservation and Epistemology

The latest local water crisis—infrastructure problems are provoking pleas for usage cutbacks—as I walked yesterday morning to the Metro reminded me of an ancient Mad Magazine line drawing captioned "Save Water: Shower with Your Steady". That illustration featured a bathing young couple clothed in strategically billowing steam. It would be G-rated today, but seemed quite risqué to a early-teenaged male mind in an era before the Internet instantly delivered one-click nudity (and more) to the screen. And that memory in turn led to further pleasant musings, including a Mad math parody-promotional-poster of a well-endowed bikini-clad beach-ball-wielding maiden. She smiled as she announced, "I love Brad—he knows CALCULUS!" And then there was the sketch of an au naturel wood nymph perched on a tree limb ... and the lady in the purple sweater ... and ...

But I digress. Among my current reading is a book about epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It wrestles with the question of how can we know anything? Classically, many philosophers have argued that immediate sense-impressions are the rock-bottom foundation upon which all knowledge must be built. But if so, where did the knowledge of "sexy" come from in those oh-so-persistent memories of mine? It wasn't taught, and it sure wasn't the product of deductive or inductive reasoning. It wasn't even there until puberty knocked down the door. Seems that at least some sensory impressions are immediately colored-in by brain chemistry, labeled via neural circuitry hard-wired at certain hormone levels to trigger when certain visual patterns hit the retina. And there are plenty of other examples: sugar-on-the-tongue, harmonious tones, rubs and tickles, etc. Apparently the neurophysiological substrate underneath the mind really matters, at least sometimes. Obvious, sure. But I can't recall seeing it discussed in the philosophy books—and most of philosophy is devoted to discussing "the obvious", eh?!

(cf. footnote of PlasticMemory (2001-07-10), and EpistemologicalEnginerooms (2000-08-10), Red Patch Now (2008-06-21), ...) - ^z - 2010-07-03