Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reciprocal altruism.

I have had an e-mail starred in my inbox for 5 months now, intending to write a blog post about it.  It's about time that I actually do it.

The motivation is an article sent by my friend Rob:

It concerns one of my favorite topics: science and religion, and whether they are reconcilable.  The author seems to think they are.  I, for the most part, think they are not.  At least, science is not compatible with religion as the institutions exist today.

As the article notes, religious apologists often argue that science cannot explain our moral instincts of right and wrong.  Wright points to the notion of "reciprocal altruism" (benefit through mutual cooperation), which may have played a part in the evolution of our moral senses.  I think this is right.

I would only add that this evolution occurred on a cultural scale.  I don't think that we are born with an innate sense of right and wrong, but are instead raised to learn right from wrong.  Through teaching, observation, and rational thought, we learn how this works.

Wright seems to imply that "convergence" on moral instincts due to reciprocal altruism is evidence that objective moral truths exist.  I happen to disagree with this idea, but I do not completely dismiss it (there are also non-theistic motivations for thinking they exist).  I do, however, think that the analogy to stereopsis and perception of three dimensions is a bad one.

The main point of the article is that science and religion are compatible.  Basically, you can use the scientific theory of evolution through natural selection (along with this notion of reciprocal altruism) in conjunction with belief in a creator that set it all in motion.  Note, however, that in order to use this approach, believers must still abandon the Judeo-Christian conception of an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God; but they can still keep a creator.  This is why science is not compatible with current theology, though it is possible that religion could evolve into some sort of deism that is compatible with this approach.

Wright argues that in order for peace to be achieved concessions must be made on the atheist side as well.  I will grant him that the idea of a creator is compatible with science, and I feel like most atheists (though not the really stubborn, belligerent ones) would do this as well.  However, that is not the argument that theists are making.  If/when religious discourse abandons irrationality, then real dialogue can begin.  It seems logical to observe complexity and wonder if that is evidence of a designer, or to observe "convergence" and wonder if there are objective truths.  Debating from that point of view would be more worthwhile than using beliefs based on blind acceptance of a book of myths.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This is not a New Year's resolution.

School's out!  W00t!  Note to not wait until finals week to start your 10+ page philosophy papers.  Those last couple of weeks almost took me back to my days of pulling all-nighters as an undergrad.  Yeah, you can't do that when you have to work 40 hours a week.  This is where I pledge to manage my time more effectively next semester...and then end up failing horribly again.  Speaking of next semester, I'm switching to 2 math classes and 1 philosophy class (after Boeing made some massive changes to their tuition reimbursement program...but that's a topic I'm probably better off not blogging about).

So now that I don't have work, school, or soccer (and haven't for the past 5 days) until work on Monday (I guess Sunday for soccer), it's time to get my life in order.  Here's how bad things are...

I have a puzzle that's been sitting in the same state (only the border is complete) on one of the desks in my home office for the past year. I haven't gotten around to filing the CDs that are sitting around my living room since I moved into my house 2 years and 7 months ago.  Nor have I put up the artwork that I bought right before that time.  In the last year, I've almost bought as many books, intending to read them all, as the number of pages that I've so far read in all of them combined.

I need to get that task list under control.  My excuse has been that every time I've had a significant break from work/school, I've been on a trip somewhere around the world.  I can't say that this winter break, so it's time to do something about it.  The break has been semi-productive so far, but not as much as I would like it to be.  Perhaps I should be a hermit for the next few days and straighten all these things out.  My goal for next year, then, is to have everything in its right place.  Maybe I'll make that my new theme song...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mew @ Metro (12/7/2009)

The first time I saw Mew in concert was at the Pitchfork Music Festival, where they played an abbreviated set (which is normal unless you're a headliner).  Being the fanboy that I am, I was eagerly anticipating seeing a proper Mew show, and had high hopes.  The band for the most part met expectations, though they did not significantly exceed them.

Tom and I showed up to Metro (a block away from Wrigley Field) about halfway into the opener's (All The Day Holiday) set.  Mew did not have a band touring with them during their brief North American jaunt, and instead chose to have bands audition to open for them in each city.  All The Day Holiday wasn't a bad choice, and I dug a couple of the songs I caught enough to give their album a listen yesterday.

We viewed the Mew set (the whole show, actually) from the upper balcony of the Metro.  The venue was a lot smaller than I expected.  This is generally a good thing, as it makes for a more "intimate" time with the band.  However, there were a couple of layers of people between us and the railing, so our view could have been better.

Their actual performance was pretty good.  They started off with four songs off And the Glass Handed Kites, including the trademark back-to-back "Special" (which I dedicated to Tom) and "The Zookeeper's Boy" move, followed by a couple from Frengers.  After this they rattled off five from my favorite album this year, No More Stories... (I'll spare you the full 23-word title), before finishing up the main set with one more oldie.  The encore was also heavy on Kites, with one from Stories, and one freaky interlude which featured a talking teddy bear.  I was quite surprised that they did not end the show with "Comforting Sounds", which seems to have been their standard closer (and what they closed with at Pitchfork).  "New Terrain", which seems like a natural opener (it was used this way at Pitchfork), was not played either.  You can find the full setlist here.

Speaking of freakishness, I would guess that a not insignificant portion of the crowd had nightmares that night after watching the videos projected during their set.  The images were by no means horrifying, but there were certainly some strange looking children or animals in most of them.  Jonas must have some weird things going on in that head of his...

Tom noted that Jonas looked "dainty" on stage, something he had not noticed during their Pitchfork performance because he was people-watching then.  At that show, Robert had described Jonas' stage persona as "meek".  I would agree more with the latter than the former, as I was not led to question Jonas' manhood in the way "dainty" connotes.  Strangely, though, I did think that he was a little less meek during this show than the last one.

So, what could have made the show better?  For one, the sound mixing seemed off on a few songs, during which I could barely hear Jonas' vocals.  This is a shame, as Tom describes his singing as "instrumental".  Bo could have also played a couple of the songs a little cleaner, though I can certainly understand the difficulty in reproducing the riffs used in "Introducing Palace Prayers" and "Repeaterbeater" in a live environment.  They had a couple of mini-jams (we all know that I don't like jams), but they were usually appropriate as intros or interludes - there wasn't a case where they just refused to end a song, which is one of my pet peeves.  They also left out a couple of my favorite songs: "An Envoy to the Open Fields" and "Cartoons And Macramé Wounds".

Overall, though, I was quite pleased.  If it wasn't for the freezing cold conditions and the fact that I had an early flight back to St. Louis the next morning, I would have insisted on waiting around afterward to try to meet the band.