Friday, April 13, 2012

Philosophy. Also, a picture of a flower.

First off, on my way home from class today, I saw a pretty red flower!

lone orange tulip
Red flower, suffering from the ill effects of Camera Phone.

If you only come here because occasionally I post pictures, you can leave now, because I'm going to talk about the things I learned in math class from a philosophy professor.

This semester, I get to take MA 451: Introduction to Mathematical Research.  It sounds really spiffy and academic, but it's really about surviving the professional world (as a mathematician).  My mileage with this course varies from class to class, because I've had some "survive the professional world" in my other major and some more in the professional world itself (albeit as an intern). On Fridays, class consists of an outside speaker, about whose presentation we then write a response.

Today's speaker, Dr. Bill Vitek, took advantage of our professor's absence to give a talk about establishing lifelong values instead of the talk about professional ethics we were expecting.  In my opinion, this greatly improved the quality of the talk*.

He talked about a book: If Aristotle Ran General Motors by Tom Morris.  I haven't read it, but he went on to talk about the four points of what he called, in his slides, "A Moral Compass for the Ages": truth, beauty, goodness, and unity.  This resounded with me, as when I was writing an outline for my life in 2008, I put together a set of four postulates of my own to guide me through my plan, through my life.

In light of this new information, I've updated them a bit.  A quick note about the words "stuff" and "things"-- I don't just mean actual physical stuff, like hula hoops and Nintendo DSes, but also the intangible things like new theories in nuclear physics and good parenting.

  1. The world is the way the world is. For good or for bad, it's what I have to work with, and I choose to work toward an obtainable improvement rather than to fight for an unobtainable ideal. So, while I would love to see every government implement a solar-powered farm system run on robot labor that provides food to every person who asks, practically speaking, I'm going to get (or create for myself) a job and donate money to the Heifer Project
  2.  People are, generally speaking, worth caring about. They are not perfect, or lovable, or even good, but generally they're trying to do their best for themselves and their own, as best they can, and that's both laudable and understandable, even if it lacks vision.
  3.  No one really wants equality, and everyone deserves a chance to win. If we build systems where people have the opportunity to win doing neat, useful stuff they love to do, we can fill the world with better neat, useful stuff.  Kickstarter, for example, is a way that people compete for resources to fund neat projects.  Not all the projects win, but I am (for example) looking forward to getting our copy of this game, because it looks all sorts of fun.
  4. Absolute demand may be infinite, but people do not need to fill every demand to be content. There are lots of people in the world who like a lot of different things. That said, no one likes all of them (and that's okay).  Personally, I'm not a big fan of bell peppers.  Capitalism seems like a pretty good way to sort out who gets which things.
They've served me pretty well, and I think they each incorporate elements of truth, beauty, goodness, and unity. I think it's a pretty reasonable platform on which I can begin to build a life.
*Let me summarize the talk I expected so I don't leave you hanging: "Plagiarism is bad, don't lie to make yourself look good, plagiarism is bad, safety is the most important thing, and plagiarism is really, really bad.  We mean it about the plagiarism."

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