Category Archives: Philosophy

My Two Favorite Books

Steven Arthur Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-born American cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. This guy is a genuine big-brained hominid, one of the smartest people you’ll ever know, and he writes to convince his readers that our world is getting steadily better, century after century. And he proves it with facts!

Changes can be either good or bad. However, contrary to popular opinion, cultural changes around the world tend, on average, to be good, in the sense that they bring greater happiness, freedom, health, and prosperity to more ad more people.

His two latest books are possibly the two most important books I have ever read.:

  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
  • Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Pinker shows that all down through history, for the past several thousand years, the world has been slowly  getting safer from violence of all kinds including muggings, rape, murder, and war, freer from disease, poverty, and superstition, more prosperous, better fed, and happier. These are real cultural changes that usually happen so slowly that most of us are not even aware of them. But our lives are much better now than they were back in the “good old days” when you might have had to get your appendix cut out by candlelight at 3 AM. With no anesthetic.

I recommend you read both books.


PHILOSOPHY is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.
METAPHYSICS is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there.
THEOLOGY is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there, and shouting, “ I found it!”
SCIENCE is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that may or may not be there . . . using a flashlight.
From the Internet

And that’s no joke. Sorry.

Marriage Redefined

marriage redefined

Billboard recently placed in Kim Davis’ home town by Planting Peace. Kim Davis is the Kentucky County Clerk who made news by refusing to sell legal marriage licenses to same-sex couples and then went to jail for refusing to obey a court order to do her job.

Even now, after being released from jail, she still refuses to personally issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or even let her employees issue such licenses bearing her name, title, or authority. “Instead,” she says, “the license will state that they are issued pursuant to a federal court order.” Lawyers are questioning whether or not such a marriage license is even valid.

According to their website, Planting Peace is a global nonprofit organization founded for the purpose of spreading peace in a hurting world. Their projects focus primarily on humanitarian aid and environmental initiatives, including their multi-national deworming campaign, Equality House LGBTQ rights advocacy, a network of orphanages and safe havens, and conservation effort in the rainforests of Peru.

Jerry Coyne says, “You don’t have free will.”

Professor of Biology, University of Chicago, Jerry Coyne argues that you have no free will. When you think you make a choice, he argues it was the only choice you could have made at that particular time and under those particular exact circumstances.

Jerry Coyne

Did you just order a cup of black coffee? Could you have ordered it with cream and sugar instead? Well, sure. If you’d wanted to. But evidently you didn’t want to. Can you choose to do something you don’t want to do? Well, sure again. You may choose cream and sugar next time just to show you can.

That doesn’t prove your point. You wanted to order sugar and cream to prove a point. You had conflicting desires, but you chose what you wanted most. You really didn’t want the cream and sugar, but you really did want to prove your point. Life is complicated and full of complex choices based on complex desires; but you do what you want most.

So if you really want something, can you decide you are not going to want it anymore? Suppose you have a pounding headache and you really wanted to stop hurting. Can you decide you’re going to like that headache, instead. Of course not. You want what you want, and you don’t want what you don’t.

I’ve realized for a long time that we don’t have as much free will as we usually like to think. You can choose to do what you want to do, but you cannot choose to do what you don’t want to do. And if you have conflicting desires, you’ll always choose what you desire most. Always!

That is your “choice,” to choose what you want and not what you don’t want. And you can’t do it any other way unless your desires change. Furthermore, you cannot change your own desires at will. Neither can I or anybody else.

Only Philosophy?

So it’s all philosophical? Yeah, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

But we know we have free will. Right? We make choices all the time. We can make any choice we want to, within the limits of our physical strength and other characteristics. Right. There’s that phrase “want to” again. Desire. We can only choose what do we want; not what we don’t want. How is that free?

Does it matter? Yes, in many ways. But it doesn’t stop people from living happy, fulfilling lives.

Watch the video. It’s 53 minutes, but it’ll make you think.