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The Future is More Convenient

On the bus ride  home this afternoon I occupied myself by reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. (It’s a book worth reading. It may even possibly, perhaps get its own blog post in the future – maybe.) While reading, I came across the word encephalitic. I had a vague idea of what it meant, but I wanted a better understanding. I lay my book down and I pulled out my Nexus One (for those with technology agnosia, that’s a smartphone) and used it to pull up the Wikipedia page for encephalitis. If you’re web-savvy enough to be reading a blog, then you should know how the Wikipedia rabbit hole works. Still, for my readers that don’t know (Mom): halfway through an article, you find a link to another interesting article. That leads you to another, the process continues. In the end, you have a dozen open windows and a lot more trivial knowledge than you had thirty minutes ago.

The encephalitis article had a link to an article on photophobia. I know someone who suffers from this, though neither one of us was aware of the medical term. With a few taps, I texted them the link. The encephalitis article also had a link to an article on Oliver Sacks, the author of the book I was reading, so of course I followed that one. The article on Sacks mentioned his book Musicophilia, which I would like to read. That reminded me that I had not completed my order when I was sitting at my computer shopping for books on Amazon this morning. I switched to the Amazon App, added Musicophilia to my shopping cart, removed another book that I had added (from my home computer) this morning, and completed checkout. The article also mentioned that another Oliver Sacks book, Awakenings, had been made into a movie. I switched over to PhoneFlicks, an app that allows me to manage my Netflix account, and I added Awakenings to my queue. This all (research on Wikipedia, texting the link, ordering the book, queuing the movie) took about 15 minutes.

After doing all of this, I had to take a moment to appreciate the convenience that this one piece of technology has brought into my life. Decades ago, our visions of the future involved flying cars, colonization of far off planets, and other ideas that seemed exciting. In reality, the technology that is changing our culture is the technology that makes things more convenient for us. A flying car would be cool for a while – but a device that let’s me spend 15 minutes to accomplish what would have once required a trip to the library, the bookstore, and the video store is a device that is more than just cool and exciting – it’s useful.

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Be a philosopher

It’s been a while since I’ve immersed myself in the writings of long dead philosophers, but a lot of what I read in those days tends to come back to me regularly.  For example, constantly remind myself of Socrates’ statement that the best life is that of the philosopher. I remind myself of this because I believe it and so I strive to live that life. I think it’s something everyone should strive for, but it seems that when the subject of philosophy comes up, people tend to dismiss it as unimportant. Philosophy is seen as the province of academics and thinkers who don’t worry about practical things like pragmatic living and action. This impression of philosophy, though widespread, is wrong.  I am starting to believe that many people dismiss philosophy so quickly because they don’t quite understand what it is. 

Most people have heard Descartes’ now cliche statement “I think, therefore I am.” Taken alone, this can seem like a silly and pointless statement of the obvious. I frequently get the impression that this statement, minus it’s context, represents what many people expect of philosophy. “I think, therefore I am” was not in any way meant to be the powerful conclusion it is usually made out to be, it is merely one line that occurs close to the beginning of Descartes argument for the existence of god.

Whether one is a devout follower of one of the world’s religions or a complete atheist, an argument such as this one should hold some importance. Why would an argument for the existence of god be important to someone who has already made up his mind on the question? Going back to Socrates, the best life is that of the philosopher. To expand on this – in order to live a good life, one must know what good is. In order to know what good is, one must constantly seek its meaning and question one’s findings. Believing you know the answer to a question such as this one is not a reason to stop investigating it. Many of the greatest discoveries and breakthroughs have come about after disproving established but wrong beliefs.

Philosophy is hard to define because it encompasses a lot of questions relating to seemingly different subjects. Basically, philosophy is the study of how the world works throught the application of reason. Descartes’ Discourse is an attempt use reason to prove the existence of god. Plato’s Republic is an attempt to use logic to determine what it means to live the good life. Other philosophical works deal with these “problems” and others including the nature of the mind, the duty and best form of government, the value of art, etc.

What I find ironic is that many of the same people who dismiss Philosophy actually do spend considerable time attempting to answer philosophical questions. The benefit of calling it by name is that by recognizing that there are hundreds of pages of writing devoted to the very same questions you are asking will give you access to a wealth of ideas on those topics.

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