On Beauty in Retrospect


“The great artists are the ones who dare to entitle to beauty things so natural that when they’re seen afterward, people say: Why did I never realize before that this too was beautiful?”

– André Gide

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On Experience


“Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.”

– Franklin P. Jones

Confucianism and the Golden Rule


‘The so-called Golden Rule, “do as you would be done by”, appears in Confucianism as a negative: “what you do not desire for yourself, do not do to others.” The difference is subtle but crucial: Confucius does not prescribe what to do, only what not to do, emphasizing restraint rather than action. This implies modesty and humility – values traditionally held in high regard in Chinese society, and which for Confucius express our true nature. Fostering these values is a form of loyalty to oneself, and another kind of sincerity.’

– Atkinson. S., Landau. C., Szudek. A., Tomley. S. (et al.) 2011. The Philosophy Book New York, United States: DK Publishing p. 39

Cargo Cult Science


‘In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Now it behoves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.’

– Feynman. R. (1974) Cargo Cult Science (a Caltech commencement address; also featured in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!)

Accuracy of the Bible


‘It is often said that it is reasonable to believe that the Bible is the word of God because many of the events recounted in the New Testament confirm Old Testament prophecy. But ask yourself, how difficult would it have been for the Gospel writers to tell the story of Jesus’ life so as to make it conform to Old Testament prophecy? Wouldn’t it have been within the power of any mortal to write a book that confirms the predictions of a previous book? In fact, we know on the basis of textual evidence that this is what the Gospel writers did.

The writers of Luke and Matthew, for instance, declare that Mary conceived as a virgin, relying upon the Greek rendering of Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew text of Isaiah uses the word ‘alma’, however, which simply means “young woman,” without any implication of virginity. It seems all but certain that the dogma of the virgin birth, and much of the Christian world’s resulting anxiety about sex, was a product of a mistranslation from the Hebrew. Another strike against the doctrine of the virgin birth is that the other evangelists have not heard of it. Mark and John both appear uncomfortable with accusations of Jesus’ illegitimacy, but never mention his miraculous origins. Paul refers to Jesus as being “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” and “born of woman,” without referring to Mary’s virginity at all.

And the evangelists made other errors of scholarship. Matthew 27:9-10, for instance, claims to fulfill a saying that it attributes to Jeremiah. The saying actually appears in Zechariah 11:12-13.

The Gospels also contradict one another outright. John tells us that Jesus was crucified the day before the Passover meal was eaten; Mark says it happened the day after. In light of such discrepancies, how is it possible for you to believe that the Bible is perfect in all its parts? What do you think of Muslims, Mormons, and Sikhs who ignore similar contradictions in their holy books? They also say things like “the Holy Spirit has an eye only to substance and is not bound by words” (Luther). Does this make you even slightly more likely to accept their scriptures as the perfect word of the creator of the universe?’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 19-20

On The Quran


“The idea that this is the best book ever written – on any subject – can only be maintained in an enormous intellectual isolation.”[1]

– Sam Harris


[1] Consider: the country of Spain translates more of the world’s literature and learning into Spanish every year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the 9th century.

Erroneous Priorities


People have different opinions. Now, interesting as this may be, learning how to determine the fact that certain convictions are actually ‘more relevant’, no discussion will ever have to be wearisome and pointless. – Relevant, that is, in the sense that ‘it has its base in reality’, i.e. ‘holds (more) truth’.

There are truths to be known about the world we live in, and since our opinions relate to that world, a number of convictions can correctly be labelled ‘irrelevant’ since they are not based in reality i.e. not related to a verifiable truth in any way.

Opinions and Issues

1.1. Fact:
Opinions can relate to issues i.e. a topic which can be approached from different angles.
1.2.1. Fact:
Concerning one particular issue: One can either do something or nothing.
1.2.2. Hypothesis:
There probably is an infinite amount of something.
1.2.3. Hypothesis:
There probably is only one kind of nothing.
1.2.4. Hypothesis:
There could be no such thing as nothing.

Human Well-Being and Problems

2.1. Fact:
Human well-being concerns objectifiable effects on consciousness.
2.2.1. Fact:
A phenomenon which negatively impacts the standard of human well-being is a problem.
2.2.2. Fact:
By default, a phenomenon which does not negatively impact the standard of human well-being is not a problem.
2.2.3. Fact:
It is true to say there are issues in society which can be identified as problems.
2.2.4. Fact:
By default, it is true to say that some issues cannot be identified as problems.
2.3. Conclusion:
The severity and number in which problems exist in society effect the total amount of human well-being and happiness in that society.

Problems and Solutions

3.1.1. Fact:
It is true to say that actual problems may be assigned different solutions which realise varying degrees of human well-being and happiness.
3.1.2. Hypothesis:
It is probably true to say that here are an infinite number of ways to solve a problem.
3.2.1. Conclusion:
There are solutions to problems which realise a greater amount of human well-being and happiness than other solutions.
3.2.2. Conclusion:
There are solutions to problems which are more relevant than others.

Problems and Priorities

4.1.1. Fact:
Actual problems have a degree of priority i.e. one problem is more relevant than another.
4.1.2. Fact:
The degree of priority of a problem is determined by the quantity of verifiable negative impact on human well-being.
4.2. Fact:
It is empirically true to say that one problem is more conducive to degrading human well-being than a another.
4.3.1. Fact:
The rate or amount of degradation with regard to human well-being is known as the scale of the problem.
4.3.2. Fact:
The scale of the problem determines its priority.
4.4. Conclusion:
Different priorities are assigned to a problem; these priorities can be misplaced in relation to the scale of the problem i.e. erroneous.
4.5. Conclusion:
Worse still, certain priorities are assigned to issues that are not actual problems. These priorities are erroneous.