Hey Now, You’re an All-Star

Shrek is the story of a lovable but grouchy ogre who, seeking to protect his swamp, mistakenly stumbles upon heroism and true love. There is a special charm about this surly green ogre, so much so that he has become a well-known meme on the internet these days. Though the story of Shrek has much humor, it seems to me that this story has much to say about human nature when it comes to love, economy, and true fulfillment. Aside from the irony of Dreamworks intentional lampooning of Disney and the musical accents of Smash Mouth, Shrek catches our interest because it contains the themes of at least two common archetypal stories: love outside of social class (in particular the woman of the higher class and the man of the lower) and the princess/dragon quest romantic hero theme.

 

The story of the rich princess and the poor pauper boy isn’t a new one. Whether it be from classical literature such as Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations or lighthearted Disney adaptations like Aladdin, this particular theme tells us that the love between a man and a woman is powerful enough to bridge economic gaps. Yet, in the real world, this phenomenon is actually extremely rare. (Look Here To See What I Mean) It is a well-established pattern in the social sciences that women tend to choose mates based upon hypergamy, which is a natural tendency to improve or at least preserve one’s status within social economic strata. In other words, most women will not marry men that aren’t at least their economic equals. (And yes, this is a major cause of income inequality. Rich women only marry rich men, which means money tends to stay in the same families).

 

The story of Shrek and Fiona is so captivating because it breaks the pattern of hypergamy regarding the choice of the woman. Think about it – Shrek is interesting because on paper Lord Farquaad offers Fiona the whole world: a magnificent castle, a royal lineage, and an easy, responsibility-free life. Fiona could have had the high life and flirted with the divine but instead, she chooses to live out her days as a cursed ogre. This is a powerful idea, because in the culture’s eyes, she didn’t stay in the same social caste. She actually chooses “down.” Fioana’s decision to fight the urges of an easy life absent of true love is a break in the pattern; it is a glitch in the matrix.

 

Shrek himself follows the archaic story line of slaying the dragon, not because of his heroism, but because of his own selfishness of wanting to preserve his beloved swamp. The irony here is that he is only made responsible when he has to be – it is mere circumstances that motivate him to save the princess. In doing so, he falls in love with a human in Fiona, whom he feels he is not good enough for. Ironically, as mentioned before, she winds up holding a curse that turns her into an ogre at night, and through this curse, she comes to love Shrek. The fact is that most of us are much like Shrek. We don’t become heroes until we have to. Shrek goes on to save Fiona, and he never even has to slay the dragon because the dragon becomes infatuated with Donkey. In some ways, Shrek’s greatest fear wasn’t the dragon itself. It seems to me that the feminine manifestation in Dragon points to the idea that Shrek’s real dragon was a devalued sense of self, and therefore an inability to love and give love. Shrek’s pressures were internal, but Fiona inspired him to embrace his strength and uniqueness.
So what does this all mean? I think it means that despite the numbers, love can transcend the gap between class and heroism (or lack thereof) and that deep down, that is what we all hope for. This is why we love Shrek and Titanic and Sleeping Beauty and all of the other romance stories that break the normal pattern of finding love within your own social strata. In regards to heroism, Jordan Peterson has said, “Slay the dragon in his lair before he comes to your village.” This is wise even if our original motivations to visit the dragon where he lives are driven by our own self-interests. In the end the dragon has been slain, the village has been saved, and the lesson has been learned.

Simulation Theory: We’re Really Here

Has anybody watched the Joe Rogan/Elon Musk Podcast?

He discusses in pretty deep detail an Origins Theory that I have never considered before. He believes that it is nearly a 100% sure thing that we are part of an advanced computer simulation. The Simulation idea goes something like this:

Advanced Beings far far superior to us have sent out computer code that simulates their past(s) to learn from them in the same way that we learn from the simulations that we create on earth. Somewhere in the relative past, some sort of immensely powerful Beings wanted to experiment with the universe and we are part of that experiment.

At first glance, this idea sounds absolutely insane, however, the more I think about it/study it, I don’t think it is as crazy as it sounds. Here’s how I think it has some compelling arguments:

1) Ask Musk discusses, humans have the ability to create with limited bandwidth, limited by brain chemistry. Our neurons can only fire to so fast, and so our computation speed is limited. Computers don’t have this problem, because they can make decisions at basically the speed of light. Whatever created us would have to have nearly unlimited bandwidth- advanced super-human beings would meet this requirement easily.

2) Our advancements in neural networks/artificial intelligence is impressive to the point that we can now begin to comprehend a computer that functions much like human can. Musk discusses how all businesses in the modern world are “cybernetic collectives” where humans and machines form the entire economy. In his view, we’re already connected- just not physically. It is no longer science fiction to imagine a computer that is smart enough to make another computer.

3) Stories of origins are inherently a theological ideas, and so it is interesting to ponder what kind of implications Simulation explains how we got DNA, which is essentially a set of 1s and 0s that tell us how to build our biological systems. That’s really powerful. In addition, the other constants of the universe would would have been defined as well by these advanced beings.

With the speed that computers can operate, and the massive-perfect memories that they can create to make decisions off of, tech leaders are legit terrified of what these things can do. Such powerful creations are feared to be advanced enough to create their own simulations to constantly improve itself.

I really really itched to research what the great Christian minds think about this, but I put off the urge to try to think through this myself. With a little more thought, I do have a few philosophical objections to this idea.

1) The simulations that we know of are limited by their own internal reference points that are defined by superior, more capable agents. It doesn’t seem logically possible for those in a simulation to be aware that they were in one. In other words, because simulations are only representations, it makes no sense that the representation could “figure out” that it wasn’t *really* what it was representing.

Imagine the Sims characters figuring out on their own that they weren’t real, and that they were just a series of 1s and 0s. How about a series of 1s and 0s on your TV screen figuring out that it in fact was not Shrek the Ogre and only a video data stream?

I don’t see any good reason to think that we’d be able to figure out that we were simulated beings. If we ever did, it would seem to be that we stumbled upon correctness. That is hardly a rational position.

2) The problem of the first cause still applies in the case of Advanced Beings/ Simulation Theory. This of course is subverted in the Christian apologetic by making distinction between existing contingently vs by necessity. There would have to be a model to explain why Advanced Beings exist by necessity. The counter-objection to this point would most likely be something along the lines of questioning the very Laws of Nature as we know it. It could go something like, “well, perhaps our reality was just developed with specific laws and constants, but why would all of reality have to be? Such a question begs the question that reality is bigger than what we know and would also be unable to be rationally affirmed, since the presupposed logic used in the question depends upon our own reality. It is a dangerous game to question the Laws of Nature- once this is done, rationale is gone with the wind.

In conclusion, I don’t think the Simulation Theory is as crazy as it sounds, given the trajectory of how quickly our technology is moving today. However, there seem to be at least a few philosophical problems with the idea.

Let me know what you guys think.

-P

“It Was Here Already, Long Ago”

Social media gives us intoxicating power to rearrange our deepest desires and our most secret insecurities in the exact order that we want them. It isn’t deeply introspective to say that media now is just collection of all the perfect things about our lives – only the things that we want others to see. If you want attention, there is plenty of it to go around. If you want to come across as wealthy and successful when you’re broke in reality, you can do that too. If you want to compete with your friends, then on your mark, get set, go. We can create our own world by only revealing bits and pieces of ourselves. Ironically though, no one seems to be fooled by this game that’s being played. Ask your friends and they’ll all say the same thing, “that darn social media, man. It’s just toxic.” As much as we all use it, there seems to be a negative connotation with the phrase. Though social media gives us this great power that quite frankly I’m not sure we fully understand, I am not sure that the invention and use of media is the real problem. Rather, media seems to be only a new way that we release what is already inside of us. I am not sure if it makes us worse than who we would have been without it, but social media definitely makes us more calculated and organized in how we execute our desires.

Has there ever been any other invention that allowed so much freedom as social media? The automobile comes to mind. The invention of the automobile was something like the social media of the 20th century. Unlike ever before, one could be wherever he wanted to be so long as he had the time. This freedom gave rise to all kinds of opportunities, but one movement in particular could not have happened without this newfound liberty.  Without automobiles, the “Free Love” movement of the 1960s never could have happened because four wheels gave us the ability to escape and act out our carnal desires on a magnitude we couldn’t have before. Men who knew better couldn’t act out the worst things because they didn’t have a car-yet. The freedom that came with cars quickly diminished accountability, and with it some of our shared traditional culture norms. It was the freedom of the automobile that showed us what was inside us all along.

Similarly, social media gives rise to not just a new place but a new life entirely. Travel, food, sex, fashion, etc are not immune to the wireless game that is played by so many. You can be your own favorite supermodel, traveler, surfer, gypsy, or athlete. The individual twists that we put on our profiles come from needs inside of us that are never quenched by likes and comments. Because these habits come from our own moral agency and not from our profiles, Instagram isn’t the real problem folks. Social media seems to be not only a revelation of what exists inside of us but also an amplification of how often and how deep we act on the worst parts of ourselves.

As cultures and technologies change, there are some things about us that stay the same. New inventions don’t seem to bring about new morals in people, they only reveal morals that were there all along. Our flesh seeks opportunity, and like the automobile, our phones give it to us. The reality is that social media has become so deeply rooted in our culture that we have to live with it, and so it takes an intentional effort to not get caught into the pressures of playing dress up and flirting with our lusts. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Social media doesn’t bring out the worst in people – we’re just already the worst.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 1:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

The Political Middle Class

Running parallel to the economic middle class, it can be observed that there is a majority “political middle class” of Americans who believe in reason, decency, hard work and moderate policy solutions to our nation’s greatest challenges. It seems to me that this particular group of people carry the most weight within society simply because they have the power of every day conversation, unlike the Fake News media, which the middle class secretly despises. The political middle class clocks into every day just like the rest of us. 

This social middle class is primarily based on Judeo-Christian principles whether by belief or by commitment to the nearly universal Christian moral axioms embedded within Western culture. Christian values generally seem to be the bedrock that inform the political middle class. As such, it is no surprise that these people are sandwiched between the radical communist Leftists and the fascist hard Right, (which is nearly fundamentally racist and unsurprisingly has a lack of charity for those in need.) Whether by Christian orthodoxy or even a secular set of ethics middle class people come to the ugly conclusion that we ourselves are part of the problem. This is why the majority of people can accept that there are problems within society that we simply will never completely solve – like poverty, hunger, unemployment, depression and other painful afflictions that we suffer from. The social middle class is notorious for venting their frustrations only to end them with, “it is what it is.”

Do not mistake the acceptance of an imperfect world for a lack of action or a lack of commitment to improving society. There is something inside all of us that keeps us going, keeps us waking up the next day, and gives us hope that someday, society will be set straight. I think this speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit and inspiration from our Creator. The political middle class carries the weight of societies beliefs and ideas and, by God, we need Help.

If you’ll excuse me, I have go to clock in.

 

Lookouts

I often find myself thinking of my hikes through the hills and mountains of Georgia and Alabama. In the Fall the weather is cool, the leaves are bright, and the trails are empty. The only sounds are the winds. But I know the reason why I go. I go for the Lookout. A clear Lookout pushes you to finish your journey and dream of the next. What you see is what you take with you, and so with new trails come the hope and expectation of experiencing a new landscape. Word of mouth can yield realistic expectations for your journey, but you might not really know what it will take to get there until you don’t have a choice. You see, on the trail, there are only two choices. You go forward, or you turn around. If you turn around, then you miss the Lookout. You miss what you came for.
When I daydream of hiking, it is hard to remove the mental challenge and strain from my memories. The burning in your legs and the sweat on your brow can come back at any instant. It is just the price one pays. I remember vividly a recent hike that was particularly gruesome. My brother, cousin and I decided to hike a 7 mile loop without our packs. What us Florida boys did not understand was the impact of elevation on our trek. We hiked for what seemed like many hours to finally come to a fork in the trail. What we quickly realized was that we were not near as far as we had believed. The landscape was unfamiliar and did not fit what we were expecting to see. It was the ups and the downs that really took their toll on us and we were literally miles off from where we thought we were. In reality, we had only traveled the first three miles of the trail to the point where the loop would start. Now, we had done so quite quickly; for we were at an aggressive pace even without packs. I remember how frustrated I was that we failed to reach what we thought was worth the sweat. I remember feeling vulnerable as we walked through the crevices, completely exposed to the
We never made it to our Lookout, but we did come across a small river with a crossing and overhang. It was so different than what we have Florida so it was worth it, but I think that the lesson I learned was that sometimes the journey just isn’t what we come to expect. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth taking. Life can come to us like these trails. I think that Life is actually a lot like these trails. Someone gives you a map and says, “go here and you will find what you are looking for.” This means that along the way, you might come across Lookouts, valleys, violent waters and danger. Maybe the worst of those is disappointment. That doesn’t mean the next Lookout isn’t what you waited for. With hope in mind, you trust in the map and move forward.
What other choice do you have?

Soundness and Validity of an Argument

A logical argument can be examined in two ways: soundness and validity. You may have heard these two words used interchangeably, but for someone who may find interest in logic and philosophy, it is important to know the difference between the two terms. Let’s look at how we can determine what a valid argument is and then see how the soundness of an argument will determine how debatable the argument will be.

The validity of a deductive argument is simple: if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Notice that this is a specific definition concerning the relationship between the premises and the conclusion. This rule doesn’t consider whether or not the premises, or the conclusion for that matter, are really true in real life. The validity of an argument isn’t concerned about whether the premises reflect reality- it is only concerned with what would be true if those premises reflected what was real. For example, we could come up with ridiculous premises and still yield a valid argument:

  1. If I flew to school on Monday, then you own 10 unicorns.
  2. I did fly to school on Monday.
  3. Therefore, you own 10 unicorns.

As ludicrous of an argument as this is, it is a valid argument (because it follows the Modus Ponens structure). If the argument is valid, then what is so silly about this it? Well, we all know that unicorns don’t exist in the real world. We also know that since I can’t fly in real life, that I didn’t fly to school on Monday. So, we can reasonably say that the conditional premise 1) in and of itself isn’t really true and premise 2) also doesn’t match reality either. This means that the argument is not a sound argument, even though it is logically valid.

In contrast to the validity of an argument, the soundness of an argument considers whether the premises really reflect the way things are in our own world. We can see by inspection that usually the soundness of a premise is the main focus of debate in any given argument. It is usually easier to determine whether an argument is invalid than it is to determine whether an argument is sound. For example, we can say something like this below:

  1. If objective moral goodness exists, then God exists.
  2. Objective moral goodness does exist.
  3. Therefore, God does exist.

The argument above is simple and valid, however, both premise 1) and premise 2) can and have been debated. Since the argument is valid, the the conclusion is fixed and must be true if 1) and 2) are true. Therefore, 1) and 2) must be proven unsound to attack the argument. For example, someone who doesn’t believe this argument is sound may attack premise 1) by saying that just because objective moral goodness exists, doesn’t mean that it must come from God. Further, one may also object to premise 2) by disagreeing that objective moral goodness really exists.

In closing, it is crucial to remember the distinction between a sound argument and a valid argument. Just because an argument is valid doesn’t mean that it is necessarily sound. When valid arguments are challenged, they are typically attacked by arguing against the soundness of their premises. Therefore, when constructing a valid argument, it is critical to anticipate challenges to the soundness of one’s premises.

The Modus Ponens Argument

The Modus Ponens argumentative form is so common to us as thinkers that it is oftentimes easy to overlook it’s vital importance to our every day reasoning. This argumentative form in it’s original Latin means to “affirm by affirming.” Simply put, this means that we can affirm some kind of conclusion (announce that it is true) by affirming something else. Today let’s look at this structure and one of it’s associated fallacies.

The Modus Ponens structure looks something like this:

  1. If P–>Q
  2. P
  3. Therefore, Q

Premise 1) is what is known as a conditional premise. A conditional premise has two parts: an antecedent and a consequent. Premise 2) is a simple truth assertion. In this case, premise 2) validates the antecedent of the conditional, leading us to conclude that Q is necessarily true. If we affirm the antecedent P, we then affirm Q. Assuming that premise 1) and 2) are really true in real life, let’s look at how this logic plays out:

  1. If you are reading this blog post, then you are on the computer.
  2. You are reading this blog post.
  3. Therefore, you must be on the computer.

A common misapplication of this structure is what is known as affirming the consequent. Let’s examine a similar structure below:

  1. If P–>Q
  2. Q
  3. Therefore, P

Notice the difference in premise 2). Premise 2) affirms the consequent, not the antecedent.  Using the same real life scenarios as above, let’s insert them into this structure and we will see that it is indeed a fallacy.

  1. If you are reading this blog post, then you are on the computer.
  2. You are on the computer.
  3. Therefore, you must be reading this blog post.

Notice that in this case, all we know is that you are on the computer-we don’t know that you are reading this blog specifically. You could be checking the weather, buying plane tickets, or listening to Rick Astley. We simply can’t know what you are doing on the computer. All we know is that you are on it. In this case, it is easy to see that it does not logically follow that you must be reading this blog post, although it is possible. This kind of conclusion is a non-sequitur, which means that the conclusion “does not follow” from the premises.