September 10, 2007


Caption: These guys are all about free will.

El Cabrero is not a determinist, but some of my favorite people are. One such is the great (excommunicated) Jewish philosopher Baruch or Benedict Spinoza, who lived from 1632 to 1677.

Spinoza's masterpiece was The Ethics, which is a little misleading as a title. It's really about God, the universe, and everything--which, at the risk of oversimplifying, were all pretty much the same thing for him. It was written in the style of Euclidean geometry, with axioms and proofs.

Spinoza's universe was like the one Einstein wanted to live in, fully determined:

In nature there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from the necessity of the divine nature to exist and produce an effect in a certain way...

Things could have been produced by God in no other way, and in no other order than they have been produced.

Spinoza's God acts from the necessity of (fill in the appropriate pronoun) own nature. Needless to say, he believed that necessity applies to the rest of us as well. He once wrote to a friend that if a stone thrown through the air became conscious, it would think it was doing so of its own free will.

To be exact, he said,

Further conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavouring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavour and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined.

For that matter,

an infant believes that it desires milk freely; an angry child thinks he wishes freely for vengeance, a timid child thinks he wishes freely to run away. Again, a drunken man thinks, that from the free decision of his mind he speaks words, which afterwards, when sober, he would like to have left unsaid. So the delirious, the garrulous, and others of the same sort think that they act from the free decision of their mind, not that they are carried away by impulse.

For him, freedom consisted largely in becoming aware of necessity.

Far be it from me to dis Spinoza, but I'm not convinced that the universe is that tightly wrapped. I think we have a little wiggle room...

SIX YEARS AFTER. Six years after 9/11, this editorial from the Charleston Gazette looks at where we've been and where we're stuck.

MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL MINING has been getting a lot of national attention. This is from Wired.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS. The good news is that the federal minimum wage has finally been raised. The bad news is that it doesn't buy what it used to. Here's what is was worth in the past in constant 2007 dollars:

*1950 - $6.48
*1968 - $9.58
*1997 - $6.68
*2007 - $5.85

ANOTHER POST-MODERN MOMENT. IBM workers in Italy are going on a virtual strike in Second Life.

ALEX THE TALKING PARROT died at age 31. The African gray parrot astounded scientists with his vocabulary of over 100 words and apparent ability to do some basic counting and recognize colors and shapes.


1 comment:

simon said...

Hi there -- sorry I'm posting this right here (couldn't find your e-mail address).

I have been deeply inspired by your blog and now have started to write my own. I would be happy to have a few regular readers and therefore ask you if we could do a "link exchange"?

Please let me know whether you are interested. I live in Switzerland and am excited to find out if I can join the English speaking bloggers' community.



my blog is (the design is constantly improved :-) )