Saturday, November 28, 2009

What Having Depression Means To Me

Here is what having depression means to me—and so much more—from my own experience.

* It means not being able to trust yourself because you cannot control how you feel;

* It means not being able to feel the slightest amount of joy;

* It means being afraid to accept who you are and open up to others for fear of judgment and rejection;

* It means asking yourself every day "is life worth living?";

* It means not being able to force a smile no matter how hard you try;

* It means having nothing to look forward to;

* It means giving up the things you once were able to do;

* It means empathizing with those who ended their lives;

* It means feeling totally isolated and alone, even in a room full of people;

* It means wishing that you could feel alive;

* It means people shying away from you from not knowing how to act towards you;

* It means being told you failed at your responsibilities and feeling worthless thereafter;

* It means being devastated by even a casual remark that upsets your ego;

* It means having people tell you "life is good", when you have no control over how you feel and blame yourself for this everyday;

* It means not knowing what it is like to feel normal;

* It means needing antidepressants to tolerate all these nameless feelings.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Still Alive

The miserable have no other medicine
But only hope:
I've hope to live, and am prepared to die.
-- William Shakespeare, Measure For Measure (Act III, scene I)

Life and death have blended into an indistinguishable whole, just as night and day lose their dichotomy after several sleepless nights. The unrelentingly recurring, unnerving systemic assault on the brain—coupled with the absence of faith in the alleviation of the pain—has inevitably left me entertaining the thought of suicide. I want to reflect on what keeps me alive in those darkest of times. I believe it is the thread of hope—the desire to be well and happy, and the desire to return to that state of enjoyment of life.

Another reason is because I see an abundance of corruption, ignorance, and suffering in the world. And it is this feeling of responsibility to this world, which stems from my awareness of these sources of misery—the ability to understand and address them—that motivates me to stay alive so that I may improve the quality of the lives of those who suffer in vain.

It is difficult not to consider the rationality of suicide in my situation. It is curious that death does not relieve pain, because relief can only be felt while remaining alive. So dying to relieve suffering seems oxymoronic. I am concerned about the potential negative implications that my abrupt death will bring. I don't want to cause pain to those close to me.

"All this I realized was more than I could ever abandon, even as what I had set out so deliberately to do was more than I could inflict on those memories, and upon those, so close to me, with whom the memories were bound."
-- William Styron, Darkness Visible

People who have survived great difficulties and went on to accomplish great feats are a significant source of inspiration to me. I hope that once I overcome depression, I will have a more complete understanding of life, which would help me with my pursuit of a better world.

It is this knowledge—the hope for the better—that gives me the strength to go on.

Oh, I must hold on
Oh, I won't be gone
Oh, I won't stop now
Oh, I don't know how
-- Korn, Here It Comes Again

Stigma and Suicide Prevention

"A lot of people don't realize that depression is an illness. I don't wish it on anyone, but if they would know how it feels, I swear they would think twice before they just shrug it..."
-- Jonathan Davis, the lead singer of Korn

The Stigma of Suicide

Suicide has traditionally been a taboo topic in western society, which has led to further alienation and only made the problem worse. Even after their deaths, suicide victims have often been alienated by not being buried near other people in the cemetery, as though they had committed some utterly unforgivable sin.

We could go a long way to reducing our suicide rate by accepting people as they are, removing the social taboo on talking about feeling suicidal, and telling people that it is OK to feel so bad that you'd think about suicide. A person simply talking about how they feel greatly reduces their distress; they also begin to see other options, and are much less likely to attempt suicide.

You flirt with suicide
Sometimes, that's OK
-- Korn, Falling Away From Me

Everybody feels down sometimes, but some people have these feelings for a very long time and feel them very intensely. It is horrible to suffer so much, and it is not anybody's fault to feel depressed or suicidal. Mental illness such as depression is a real illness that can be treated, and if someone experiences suffering and suicidal thoughts, it is a good idea to seek some help, such as to see a psychotherapist or talk to a supporting friend or family member.

One also has to be prepared that not everyone is going to be understanding or know how to help. Even those closest to us--our family and friends--might not understand or be able to help. And it is not because they wish harm, but because the feelings that one feels during a depressive episode are truly inaccessible to someone who has never experienced them. There is a stigma of suicide and mental illness in our society that is very hurtful to those who suffer from such illness, contemplate suicide, or have survived a suicide attempt. The lack of awareness and stigma of suicide has to be taken into consideration when someone is saying something hurtful. People have good intentions, but most people are not trained to help someone in serious situations. Regardless of this, it is always better to seek help, because no one should suffer so much alone.


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/The_way_out.jpg 
The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie, 2007

Suicidal ideation is a frequent medical term for suicidal thoughts, which may be as complete as a formulated plan, without the suicidal act itself. Those who attempt to harm themselves are, as a group, quite different from those who actually die from suicide; females attempt suicide much more frequently than males do, but males are four times more likely to die from suicide.

46% of Americans see suicide as a personal or emotional weakness rather than a health problem, and 22% believe this about depression. This shows that many Americans do not realize that depression is a disease that can be treated. The failure to recognize depression as a disease is most troubling and encourages the misconception that people should blame themselves, family members and friends for this illness. It is already very difficult for people to accept that they have depression and to stop torturing themselves over the "why" they experience the feelings of inadequacy that are associated with depression. The stigma also prevents people from seeking needed assistance. Ignorance and stigma of mental illness, perpetuated by suicide's taboo status, contribute to the difficulty of acceptance of the illness by the victims and their loved ones.

Americans' Understanding of Mental Health:


Americans are more likely to view mental illnesses and other behavioral health problems as personal or emotional weaknesses - rather than real health problems - more often than they do other illnesses.
  • Alcohol or drug problems (57%) and suicide attempts (46%) are mostly often seen as weaknesses.
  • Among mental illnesses, nearly a quarter of Americans (22%) see depression as a weakness, followed by bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (7%).
  • Nearly all Americans see cancer (97%) and diabetes (96%) as health problems - not weaknesses.
Suicide is grossly under-reported in the American news media. The underreporting of suicide leads people to seek help less, and perpetuates a lack of awareness about the subject in society. Suicide awareness is crucial in learning to recognize the symptoms or signs and to learn some avenues of help.

Reasons for the under-reporting of suicide by doctors as the official cause of death:
  • In cases of denial of family members that the death was a suicide rather than an accident, to spare the survivors from having to confront the truth.
  • To avoid causing the families of suicide victims the added stigma, grief, and shame.
  • There is no way of classifying certain instances as suicides, such as some traffic "accidents".
Reasons for lack of reporting of suicide in the media:
  • Public safety--to discourage suicide contagion (copy cat behavior).
  • To prevent stigma of the families of suicide victims.
  • Court order, such as the case when 60 Minutes tried to air a story on the issue but was forced to back down when it was served with an injunction.
Ways colleges under-report student suicide:
  • Suicides committed off-campus are not accounted.
  • Suicides on holidays, breaks, and during summer are not accounted.
  • Suicides by students not registered for classes are not accounted.
    Statistics:
    • In 2006, there were reported 33,300 (approximately 11 per 100,000) deaths by suicide in the U.S. Suicide deaths consistently outnumber deaths attributable to homicide (18,000) by a ratio of three to two--with most suicides attributable to untreated depression. Yet, most Americans greatly underestimate the occurrence of suicide (63% of Americans believe homicides vastly outnumber suicides). A person dies by suicide about every 16 minutes in the United States.
    • The real number of suicides may be three to five times the official number (99,900-166,500) because most suicides go unreported.
    • An estimated 12 to 25 nonfatal suicide attempts occur per every suicide death. For young people there are an estimated two hundred attempts for every successful (completed) suicide. There were over 800,000 suicide attempts in 2005. An attempt is estimated to be made once every minute.
    • While females attempt suicide more often than males, at a rate of 4:1, males "succeed" more often, at the same rate.
    Despite the fact that suicide has been a leading cause of death, the public and the medical profession are largely apathetic. It is sickening that college officials do not talk about the problem.
    • 3.4% of those who are clinically depressed die by suicide.
    • More than 90% of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of their death, most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder.
    • Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
    • The lifetime prevalence of depression in the US is 17%. The probability of having a major depressive episode within a year-long period is 3–5% for males and 8–10% for females.
    Youth suicide:
    • In 2006, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. (1st = accidents, 2nd = homicide).
    • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students and for 25-34 year olds.
    Data from the 2006 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey of 94,806 U.S. college students, conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA), revealed the following data regarding students' mental health:
    • 14.8% of students reported having been diagnosed with depression sometime in their lifetimes. Of that percentage, 34.4% reported that they were diagnosed in the past school year, 26.4% reported that they are currently in therapy for depression, and 36.6% reported that they were currently taking medication for depression.
    • 1.3% of students reported attempting suicide at least 1 time during the past school year, and 9.3% of students reported seriously considering attempting suicide at least once.
    • 43.8% of students felt so depressed within the last year that it was difficult to function.
    Prevention:

    "They also serve who stand and wait."
    -- John Milton, Paradise Lost

    The first step in preventing suicide is to educate yourself. Education and awareness can help deter needless deaths and the years of suffering that precedes them. Prevention should focus on addressing the underlying cause (proper treatment and prevention of depression--the biggest cause of suicide), rather that preventing the act of suicide itself. It is our responsibility as human beings to not allow others to suffer the terrible distress that precedes suicidal ideation and attempts in the first place.

    Mental illnesses are very serious--every bit as serious as other illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, and our nation needs to treat them as such--through better mental health promotion, increased research and health insurance equity that would enable Americans to get mental health services when and if they need them. The discomfort Americans continue to feel towards people with mental illnesses is disconcerting. Societal acceptance and support is instrumental in helping individuals and families facing mental health issues recover and enjoy healthy, fulfilling lives in their community.

    People who live with mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder or substance abuse, are less optimistic than the general population, in part, because of America's climate of misunderstanding of mental illnesses and the barriers that exist to accessing treatment and supports in the community. With continued understanding, Americans can ensure positive futures for all those who face health conditions of all types.

    Depression is the leading cause of suicide. But addressing depression because of this fact alone is missing the point. Suicide is only the most dramatic denouement a depressed individual may experience. It’s important to recognize that the majority of depressed people, even though they may not kill themselves, are nonetheless profoundly unhappy and find it a struggle to function at home and at work. It is our moral responsibility to each other to actively do everything in our means to help those who suffer from mental illness, like educating ourselves about the topic, openly discussing the topics of suicide and mental illness with those around us, and helping those with the signs of mental illness to cope with the illness and to get additional help. Because, as Milton says, when we remain silent we become the enablers of the terrible hurt.

    "In virtually any other serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devastation would by lying flat in bed, possibly sedated and hooked up to the tubes and wires of life-support systems, but at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting. His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained. However, the sufferer from depression has no such option..."
    — William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

    Emotional pain can be no less hurtful--and often more distressful--than physical pain. Nevertheless, it is largely ignored by most people, including those in the medical field. This is largely due to the fact that emotional pain is nearly impossible to quantify; emotional pain is so much harder to understand and empathize than physical pain. Emotional pain is invisible to the senses--we can only learn about it by the sufferer's self-reported testimony; the very intense pain experienced during depression is ineffable and incomprehensible to those who did not experience depression firsthand, which is over 80% of people. We can empathize with a burn victim, a woman whose body was burned in a house fire, because the burns are readily visible, and we all have first-hand experience of being burned. And so this woman receives immediate emergency care and the support of her friends, family and other caring people. Whereas the same woman, during a depressive episode might experience no less intense and debilitating pain, but left to tolerate it on her own. This apparent dichotomy fuels the focus of the society on preventing suicide instead of on alleviating the suffering. This is abominable. People who came to the decision to commit suicide might as well be dead due to the emotional and psychological turmoil that is no less than physical in intensity; trying to prevent the sufferers from doing what seems like their only option at the moment, instead of caring for them and working to alleviate their distress, is an insult to human dignity and undermines all sensible moral standards of any individual. If people experienced this pain firsthand, and if they did not care so much about themselves and their money, then people would be much more compassionate, depression would not be so stigmatized in our society, and the medical treatment of depression would be much more advanced. Our inability to understand the pain of depression, coupled with the apathy and my and your selfishness, are what perpetuate the unnecessary, terrible suffering of our fellow human beings.

    Resources:
    • http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml#Suicide
    • http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml
    • http://www.suicide.org/suicide-statistics.html#2005
    • http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewpage&page_id=050fea9f-b064-4092-b1135c3a70de1fda
    • http://www.acha-ncha.org/reports_ACHA-NCHAII.html
    • Major depressive disorder (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_depressive_disorder%29 -- this is a great article to inform anyone about the facts of depression
    Articles:
    • "The stigma of suicide within us" http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/stigma.htm
    • "Lost On the Campus" http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,93991,00.html
    • "10-year Retrospective Study Shows Progress in American Attitudes About Depression and Other Mental Health Issues" http://www.healthyplace.com/general-news/news/10-year-retrospective-study-shows-progress-in-american-attitudes-about-depression-and-other-mental-health-issues/
    • "Suicide Increase Highlights Mental Health of Students" http://www.dailycal.org/article/8917/suicide_increase_highlights_mental_health_of_stude
    • "UC Berkeley depression statistics high" http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20070419/ai_n19015766/
    • "College students struggle with stress, poll reveals Many show symptoms of depression but don't seek help, survey finds." http://www.allbusiness.com/medicine-health/diseases-disorders-mental/12474599-1.html
    Books:
    • An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
    • Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron
    • Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
    • Why Suicide by Eric Marcus

    Most Inspirational Advice

    First off, I agree with Robert Half that "Free advice is worth the price." So, I strive to evaluate "free advice" on the merit of its validity.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
    Maryanne Williamson

    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
    — Margaret Mead

    "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion."
    — Albert Camus, author, philosopher, and journalist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    I see this as the only means of life. Any other means is mere existence. What still had meaning for Camus is that despite humans being subjects in an indifferent and "absurd" universe--in which meaning is challenged by the fact that we all die--meaning can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by our own decisions and interpretations.

    "If you ever find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause, and reflect."
    — Mark Twain

    Mark Twain was a great man who critiqued the status quo and refused to be swayed by the strings of society. He was very much a revolutionary and a visionary--a man who was intellectually ahead of his time. There are a few other examples of such people in history, one of whom is Bertrand Russell.

    "For my part, I think the important virtues are kindness and intelligence. Intelligence is impeded by any creed, no matter what; and kindness is inhibited by the belief in sin and punishment."
    — Bertrand Russell, philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, religious skeptic, social reformer, socialist and pacifist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Thoughts On Change

    We are really all blind to the reality and to what it really is. A person is really his or her body, and all life experience is ultimately body experience. Our physical senses allow us to perceive an indirect, dis-synchronized, superficial image of the world: partial-spectrum two-dimensional picture, feeling, sound, taste, and smell.

    I often marvel in amazement at how strongly humans (their thoughts and actions) are bound by their tendencies--the biological drives and mechanisms that are instilled in all living beings. How much childhood affects the rest of a child's life. How people want to be accepted and loved. How much our emotions affect our behavior. When I think of this, I imagine that we live in a world--a world in which the forces that guide us are invisible to our senses, but can only be known through means like science and reason. It's as if life is a mighty current, and we're drifting blindly in it with a given potential for change, but to change direction requires tremendous amount of effort. Indeed we are often unaware of our own motives for our actions--we are unaware of how we would act in many situations, and we don't know what we are capable of. (In the Milgram experiment on obedience (1961), it was estimated that only an average of 1.2% would go though with completing the experiment--administering a 450-volt deadly shock--whereas in reality it turned out to be 65%). Our inherent and acquired tendencies and habits are immutable to such a great extent, and they govern our lives. All change is extremely gradual. We are bound by the invisible forces of the Universe, whether or not we are aware of them. However, I believe that free will lies in our ability to change through identifying these forces--becoming aware of the physical and the psychological reasons that guide our actions.

    But y'all can see me now cos you don't see with your eye
    You perceive with your mind
    -- Gorillaz, Clint Eastwood

    Friday, March 6, 2009

    Class Notes: INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY Values

    ..From the Archives (12/07)

    In the examples, Rachels carefully examines the arguments used by the opposing sides, and relates them to ethical theories that might have been used in each. He also emphasizes the importance of carefully evaluating each side, and warns against accepting unsound, or bad, arguments.

    The Elements of Moral Philosophy Chapter 2: The Challenge of Cultural Relativism?

    This chapter analyzes Cultural Relativism, a theory about the nature of morality. Cultural relativists have made the following independent claims:
    • (1) Different societies have different moral codes.
    True, but exaggerated. There are certain values that are universal, and the reasons for differences lie mostly in our belief system, not in our values.
    • (2) The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society.
    What a society believes is not necessarily what is really true.
    • (3) There is no objective standard that can be used to judge one society’s code as better than another’s. In other words, there is no “universal truth” in ethics.
    This is not necessarily true. We should consider whether a practice promotes or hinders the welfare of people affected by it.
    • (4) The moral code of our own society has no special status; it is but one among many.
    Moral codes might be better or worse than some others.
    • (5) It is mere arrogance for us to judge the conduct of other people. We should adopt an attitude of tolerance towards the practices of other cultures.
    Intolerance of some things is not necessarily wrong. We should seek progress.

    In brief, Cultural Relativism can be summarized by the statement, “The notion of right is in the folkways.” Additionally, the apparent contradiction between (2) and (5) emerges out of the improper understanding that “the norms of a culture reign supreme within the bounds of the culture itself.” “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

    The consequences of taking it seriously are listed below:
    • We won’t be able to criticize the customs of any society.
    • The standards of the society determine the morality of an action within that society.
    Social reform and moral progress are only possible through promoting the society’s own immutable ideals.

    Rachels focuses on presenting and rejecting the “Cultural Differences Argument,” the argument behind Cultural Relativism, which states:
    • Different cultures have different moral codes.
    • Therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion, and opinions vary among cultures.
    This argument is unsound, for the conclusion does not follow from the premise, and therefore proves nothing. It does not follow, from the mere fact that different cultures disagree, that there is no objective moral truth. It is possible that a practice is objectively right (or wrong) and that one or more of the cultures are mistaken. “The fundamental mistake in the Cultural Differences Argument is that it attempts to derive a substantive conclusion about a subject from the mere fact that people disagree about it.”

    The “Why There Is Less Disagreement Than It Seems” section tries to show that cultural differences are often overestimated. Rachels states that “the difference is in our belief system, not in our values.” If we consider the reasons for the cultures’ differing behaviors, we will find that they are closely in tune with our own values. Many factors such as values, religious and factual beliefs held by its members, and the physical circumstances in which they live, work together to produce the customs of a society. The difference in customs may be attributed to (the different) aspects of social life other that values. Therefore, there is less disparity about values than there appears to be. Rachels illustrates each of his points with appropriate examples.
    Further, Rachel states that some values are “more or less universal.” He says that there are moral rules that all cultures must have in common because they are necessary for the society’s existence. The prohibition of murder, rules against lying, and caring for the young are some examples of necessary features of all societies.

    Rachels introduces a line of reasoning which looks at the overall harm or help of an action—Act Utilitarianism. “Does the practice promote or hinder the welfare of the people whose lives are affected by it?”

    There are several reasons for people’s are reluctance to criticize other cultures, and there are reasons why they are misguided:
    • They don’t want to interfere with the social customs of other people.
    It is right and not intolerant to merely try “to see the world clearly, from a moral point of view.”
    • People should be tolerant of other cultures.
    Tolerance does not mean that all beliefs and practices are equally admirable.
    • People do not wan to express contempt for the society being criticized.
    To condemn a particular practice is not the same as to say that the culture on the whole is contemptible or that it is generally inferior to any other culture.

    Cultural Relativism, however, teaches us two important lessons:
    • It is dangerous to assume that all our preferences are based on some “absolute rational standard.” It reminds us that many of our practices are merely peculiar to our own society.
    • We should avoid being dogmatic and always keep an open mind. “Our feelings are not necessarily perception of the truth—they may be nothing more than the result of cultural conditioning.”
    “Tolerance is a virtue, but it is OK to disagree. So, how much tolerance is the ‘right’ amount?” “Tolerance allows for humility.”

    A philosopher seeks to find the truth; he must to be open to discovering the truth.

    Conditions for morality:
    If there is ethics,
    
A. The very same (one) action can not be both right and wrong at the same time.

    B. The very same action can not change their value over time.


    Act Utilitarianism – argument against
    Theory 6: “An action is right” means… “that action produces better consequences than any other action open to the agent in a given situation.”
    P1: “open to the agent in a given situation” (under certain circumstances) = will produce certain consequences
    P2: Will produce certain consequences = action producing such consequences can change over time
    P3: This goes against the second condition of ethics
    C: This reasoning can’t be considered ethical

    Issues to research:
    • Treatment of handicapped
    • Abortion

    Class Notes:

    “An action is right” means…
    Approval Theories
    Theory 1: “I approve that action.”
    Theory 2: “the majority of the community approves that action.”
    Theory 3: “(universal majority)”
    Theory 4: “God approves that action.”
    Moral Intuitionism
    Theory 5: “that action has attached to it the simple, irreducible property of rightness.”
    Act Utilitarianism
    Theory 6: “that action produces better consequences than any other action open to the agent in a given situation.”
    Rule Utilitarianism
    Theory 7: “that action falls under a rule or practice which when carried out produces better consequences than any other rule or practice open to the agent in a given situation.”
    Rule Agapeism
    Theory 8:

    Moral Obligation:
    Blame applies when:
    Video Tape:
    Discussion:
    Class Resources:
    Books:
    • The Elements of Moral Philosophy (Fifth Edition), James Rachels and Stuart Rachels.
    • The Right Thing To Do, James Rachels (self)
    Supplemental reading:

    Internet resources that cover ethics and value theory:
    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/ (Ross Theory of Ethics)
    Wikipedia
    Truthout: http://www.truthout.org/
    Development of Metaethical Procedure, G. E. Moore
    Multiple Personality:
    Myths: www.karitas.net/blackbirds/lagman/
    Star* http://thosethatwalk.tripod.com
    Self-source: http://www.astraeasweb.net/plural/

    Praise and Blame

    ...From the archives.

    Article: Humans hard-wired to be generous

    A study by government scientists in Washington indicates humans are hard-wired to be unselfish.

    Neuroscientists Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman of the National Institutes of Health say experiments they conducted have led them to conclude unselfishness is not a matter of morality, The Washington Post reports.

    Rather, the two say altruism is something that makes people feel good, lighting up a primitive part of the human brain that usually responds to food or sex.

    Grafman and Moll have been scanning the brains of volunteers who were asked to think about a scenario involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves.

    They are among scientists across the United States using imaging and psychological experiments to study whether the brain has a built-in moral compass.

    The results are showing many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, opening up a new window on what it means to be good.

    Copyright 2007 by United Press International


    Q: What acts are praiseworthy (and what does it mean to be good)?
    Does any action which benefits others deserve praise and respect? Do motives matter? What if a virtuous act is committed because it benefits the acting agent, whether with pleasure or other gain? Is the difficulty of implementing that action a factor (sharing an apple with a homeless person or organizing a national fundraiser), including having the favorable circumstances to implement that action (a poor person donating money versus a rich person)? Does the action itself matter? What determines the degree of praiseworthiness?

    A: An act is praiseworthy if 1) That action is a result of conscious decision, i.e. it can’t be an accidental act, 2) The action must be virtuous (whatever that means), 3) The action is implemented in an unselfish manner (the acting agent did not implement that action with the hope of gain, i.e., pleasure, money, favor, etc.), conscious or unconscious (the hope of gain may lie in genetics of that person, making that action unconsciously desirable).

    The acting agent’s praiseworthiness should not be judged by other people because praiseworthiness is very difficult to determine. Instead, the act itself, without the aspect of the agent (his motives, circumstances), should be judged on its praiseworthiness. Id est, “that is a very good thing you did” (which implies that the acting agent is also good, but does not explicitly make that judgment).

    Q: So what talents, skills, actions, etc. are praiseworthy? Is an evil person with a great mastery of a musical instrument praiseworthy?

    Q: What actions are blameworthy?

    Blame is often the result of anger. It's intention and outcome is considerable guilt and therefore pain, which makes it a very important subject to understand. So the question to ask is:

    Q: When is it OK to feel angry?

    "Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."
    -- Aristotle (Ancient Greek Philosopher, Scientist and Physician, 384 BC-322 BC)


    Define conditions:
    • the right person
    • the right degree
    • the right time/moment
    • the right purpose/grounds
    • the right way/manner
    • the right length of time
    Regarding "the right purpose/grounds", it is important to note that justifiable anger, or any pain-causing emotion, must be directed towards the action in itself, without taking into account its implications, all of which are an indirect outcome--or side-effect--of the action (e.g. being late should receive the same emotional response, as in the case of a surgeon being 15 minutes late late for a life-or-death surgery of the president, and in the case of a student being late 15 minutes to a class).

    Scribbles On Moral Relativism

    Philosophy: Wikipedia entry on the categorical imperative, Eskimo killing children:

    The categorical imperative is the central philosophical concept of the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and of modern deontological ethics. Kant introduced this concept in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Here, the categorical imperative is outlined according to the arguments found in his work.

    Kant thought that human beings occupy a special place in creation and that morality can be summed up in one, ultimate commandment of reason, or imperative, from which all duties and obligations derive. He defined an imperative as any proposition that declares a certain action (or inaction) to be necessary. A hypothetical imperative would compel action in a given circumstance: If I wish to satisfy my thirst, then I must drink something. A categorical imperative would denote an absolute, unconditional requirement that exerts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself. It is best known in its first formulation:

    Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

    Statement: Morality is Universal; Cultural relativism is false.

    Objection 1: Eskimos killing children for the survival of the tribe is considered moral; killing children in USA is considered immoral; therefore cultural relativism is true.
    What's considered moral is different in different societies; therefore cultural relativism is true.

    Eskimos killing children for the survival of the tribe is Universally immoral because of the categorical imperative.

    Objection 1: Thought experiment: Two poisoned people with one antidote. What would be the moral thing to do?
    Assumption: Not taking the pill would be killing oneself; killing oneself is immoral; therefore there is no moral act in that situation.

    Objection 2: If it is moral to put one person in prison, then it is moral to put everyone in prison (regardless of their provocation)
    Assumption: Provocations are irrelevant to a maxim

    Question: Are answers to all moral questions about actions either that they are moral or immoral, or is there a middle ground? (If an act is not immoral, can it be also be not moral?)

    Telling the truth to the murderer is required because moral actions do not derive their worth from the expected consequences.

    What Is Moral?

    What is moral? What is immoral? Is morality relevant to different cultures or people? Do we have an obligation to be moral? Is there morality?

    For example, there is an accepted practice among Eskimos to leave their children in snow for a period of time so that only the strongest will survive, because there isn't enough resources, such as food, for everybody. This same practice would also be condemned in the Western world.

    There are certain generally accepted principles in our society that people believe in, such as:

    Stealing is wrong.
    Killing is wrong.
    Lying is wrong.

    Most people believe this is so without questioning their validity. Most people also believe there are exceptions. But I don't know of many people who seriously consider the reasons behind those statements. But I ask why are these things wrong? Or, more fundamentally, what standards should be used to assess the righteousness of an action?

    The people whom I asked "why is stealing wrong" laughed, shook their head, and said that stealing is simply wrong, and there is no excuse for it. "But why," I asked again, at which point they got angry and tried to change the topic.

    I agree with Aristotle in that "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." So humor me. I'm not trying to play Devil's Advocate to annoy you, but because these--and many other--"obvious" statements have not been properly (or at all) explained in my childhood by my parents and other grownups. So I really, seriously, want to doubt, to find out. The idea of living my life in ignorance is a really disturbing one.

    People hold so many beliefs which they can not--or do not want to--justify. Maybe it's because they're afraid of the consequences of finding otherwise from what they previously thought. Maybe they're just really confident in their belief, for whatever reason, and think it's a waste of time reconsidering it... But to honestly evaluate all our beliefs would take so much time, it is so much easier to just accept what seems right to us, what our peers and those in power tell us, and to dismiss any challenges to these beliefs.

    Well, what's wrong with that? What's wrong with what? Where was I? Fuck, I'm tired of thinking.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    A Note To Live By

    This is the graduation speech of my favorite Professor which he handed out at the end of his class.


    “Other than your living a loving and compassionate life, I wish for you more than anything that you become autonomous. Be fully informed on all important maters and apply critical thinking before making choices. Regard no one as an authority, challenge all beliefs, but listen to others before reaching decisions. Before offering criticism, know an opposing position so well that you can argue it better than the opponent proposing it. In so doing, you may risk your own position. Challenge even well founded beliefs. Reject indoctrination, even from the sciences. Theories never become facts. Not even the earth can be shown to orbit the sun! Once in a while, give Santa’s beard a tug.”

    Dr. Puett
    Chairperson
    Philosophy Program
    Miramar College San Diego


    Why I Am Studying Philosophy

    http://r-p-e.blogspot.com/2007/05/starting-out-as-philosopher-and-levels.html

    • How did I first encounter philosophy as a subject - and what did I make of it.
    • Why am I studying philosophy? How did it happen?

    The first course I took in Philosophy--Introduction to Philosophy: Reality and Knowledge--was at a local US community college. It was the summer after my sophomore year in high school. That class got me hooked like nothing else in my life. The basic philosophical ideas were so unconventional and fascinating. I was enthralled while listening to my teacher lecture and while reading the textbook--The Experience of Philosophy, by Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, a really great book for introductory philosophy. Before my high school graduation, I’ve taken all of the offered philosophy courses in that college with a truly great and inspiring teacher, including Critical Thinking, Human Nature, Ethics, and Logic courses, all of which I enjoyed and which proved to be of great value to me.
    The biggest advice I can give for Philosophy and Ethics students is shop for professors (ratemyprofessor.com is a great site), pick the one that suits your desired level of difficulty and clarity, and one which has most positive responses. It is paramount that the professor is passionate about teaching and that he/she connects with students. Also, try to learn and understand as much material as you can in your courses so that you will find out what interests you most.
    I first enrolled in philosophy to make sense of the world around me, to get some answers, to find out how the world works, and perhaps to find myself. Instead, I got something even better—more questions. I found out about ideas which I haven’t considered before, both the abstract and the practical. I found out that the world is much more extraordinary than I have believed. Philosophy is where the greatest minds that ever lived share their views on the nature of this world and ourselves. It is the most relevant field of study that you can take. In all, one of the greatest lessons of philosophy is to have humility. The more we learn, the more humble we should become from understanding of just how little we know.

    Jun 19, 2007

    A Broken Bone

    This is another one from "the archives". This was my second broken bone (I broke my first one by falling on flat ground).


    [Final Draft]
    Daniel
    Per.2 4/27/04
    A Broken Bone

    Kiev is a relatively big city. It has a population of more than two and a half million people. It is also the capital of Ukraine , a country located in Eastern Europe . European cities have a tight-nit neighborhood, people know each other and everyone lives close by, so when I lived in Kiev most of my friends lived just across the street. We always stopped and said hello to each other whenever we met, even on the way to a market.

    I lived on a second floor of a ten story building. I had a large balcony in which I kept my green, old bike. Since my bike had a flat tire, my parents told me to not ride it. It was the year of 2000 and the weather was hot, but windy.

    One day one of my friends, Alex, who lived just across the street, asked me to ride bikes together. I don’t let my friends down, so I said,” Yes, of course!” I thought that I could take responsibility and just bring the bike back after riding it. I felt like it is going to be fun to ride my own bike with my friends, because I was eleven and did everything on my own.

    We pumped the bike’s tire, so I thought it was good for a short period of time. I felt pretty excited. It was hot, so I thought I’ll go get something to drink in a store near by after riding our bikes, I didn’t even know what was going to happen after that, because all I knew is that we were going pretty fast and Alex said,” Hey, how come Daniel is always ahead?”. I remember thinking that I had to get ahead of these guys when I turned in the air a few times and landed on the hard floor. I think I smelled what I heard, and I heard bells ringing and I saw every thing in a shady black color. It didn’t even hurt, but I knew that my left arm was broken because I couldn’t move it. My friends carried me home and the next day we went to the hospital. An ambulance carried me there. It was a relatively small hospital. So we waited in line before the doctor took care of my hand. The doctor looked at my x-rays and told me to sit down, so I sat. He straightened out my hand, which was really painful, and rolled it into a soft, wet, cotton bowl.

    This relates to the story “Jack and the Beanstalk” because these situations are similar. In both situations we did something that we knew was wrong, but we still did it and at the end someone got hurt. In my story it was me, and in “Jack and the Beanstalk” it was the ogre.

    I regret this because I had to wear a belt around my neck for a month and I don’t have the same strength in my left hand as I used to have. But I’m just thankful to be alive, if it matters. This incident helped me gain great insight into doing what’s right, and now it helps me in life to make better decisions like not to use broken things and do what seems reasonable.

    Monday, May 3, 2004 8:03:15 PM

    --
    My Westview '04 freshman ESL class with Ms. Cavanagh:


    Radio

    This is an essay I wrote for my ESL (English as a Second Language) class, which was a complete waste of my time btw (sorry, Mrs. Clevenger). I found this in my inbox which I sent to myself way back in May '04, my Freshman year of High School.


    Radio

    Back when I lived in Kiev, Ukraine, I had a friend Vania. He was about my age, tall, with bright hair. He lived not very far away, so we could just call each other and meet without using any transportation. We had a lot of fun together. Sometimes on weekends, we went to the mall with other friends and looked around the store

    We weren’t going to the same school, but he was going to the school that is the nearest to my house, I even used to go there until fourth grade. Once, he invited me to his birthday, and I saw someone give him a radio as a present. I also had another friend, Sergey who was in the same class as Vania. There were also a lot of guys in that class who liked to steal. One day I went to Sergey’s house and I found that mini radio that Vania got for his birthday, so I asked him “Where did you get this?” And he said that he bought it from a guy in his class. So that guy from Vania’s class stole the mini radio from him and sold it to Sergey.

    I know this is pretty rare that these kind of things happen, but it happened to me, or I was the one who saw the big picture. I was a pilot looking down from a plane on all the things that people don’t realize existed. So I told it to Vania. ”I know who has your radio and that someone in your class stole it”. But said that he knew that someone in his class stole it and said that he doesn’t want it back and he got a new radio already. I don’t know what I would do in that situation, but what I learned was that can’t trust people unless they are your close friends, because if you can’t trust them, then who can you trust?

    Sent: Monday, May 10, 2004 8:14:29 PM

    The Function of Education

    August 9, 2008

    Chapter 1, from Education and the Significance of Life, by J. Krishnamurti

    Summary: (goal: social change) the present system of education is creating war and conflict. The focus should be to understand the total process of himself (deep integration of thought and feeling) to bring order and peace to the world. "The highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole." current education separates and disconnects the many aspects of life.

    Topics discussed:
    • right education
    • fear/conformity
    • true values
    • intelligence
    • meaning of life
    • seeking comfort and security
    • problems of existence (war, conflict)
    • integration of levels of existence/departments

    Text (abridged):
    We are turning out, as if through a mold, a type of human being whose chief interest is:
    • to find security,
    • to become somebody important, or
    • to have a good time with as little thought as possible.

    Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Conformity leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist environment is not easy and is often risky as long as we worship success. The urge to be successful, which is the pursuit of reward whether in the material or in the so-called spiritual sphere, the search for inward or outward security, the desire for comfort—this whole process smothers discontent, puts an end to spontaneity and breeds fear; and fear blocks the intelligent understanding of life. With increasing age, dullness of mind and heart sets in

    In seeking comfort, we generally find a quiet corner in life where there is a minimum of conflict, and then we are afraid to step out of that seclusion. This fear of life, this fear of struggle and of new experience, kills in us the spirit of adventure; our whole upbringing and education have made us afraid to be different from our neighbor, afraid to think contrary to the established pattern of society, falsely respectful of authority and tradition.

    But there is an intelligent revolt which is not reaction, and which comes with self-knowledge through the awareness of one’s own thought and feeling. It is only when we face experience as it comes and do not avoid disturbance that we keep intelligence highly awakened; and intelligence highly awakened is intuition, which is the only true guide in life.

    If we are being educated merely:
    • to achieve distinction,
    • to get a better job,
    • to be more efficient,
    • to have wider domination over others,
    then our lives will be shallow and empty.

    Though there is a higher and wider significance to life, of what value is our education if we never discover it? We may be highly educated, but if we are without deep integration of thought and feeling, our lives are incomplete, contradictory and torn with many fears; and as long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance.

    In our present civilization we have divided life into so many departments that education has very little meaning, except in learning a particular technique or profession. [...] To attempt to solve the many problems of existence at their respective levels, separated as they are into various categories, indicates an utter lack of comprehension.

    Education should bring about the integration of these separate entities—for without integration, life becomes a series of conflicts and sorrows.

    Education is not merely a matter of training the mind. Training makes for efficiency, but it does not bring about completeness. A mind that has merely been trained is the continuation of the past, and such a mind can never discover the new. That is why, to find out what is right education, we will have to inquire into the whole significance of living.

    [...] Without love, which brings an integrated understanding of life, efficiency breeds ruthlessness. [...] If education leads to war, if it teaches us to destroy or be destroyed, has it not utterly failed?

    To bring about right education, we must obviously understand the meaning of life as a whole, and for that we have to be able to think, not consistently, but directly and truly. [...] To understand life is to understand ourselves, and that is both the beginning and the end of education.

    Education is not merely acquiring knowledge, gathering and correlating facts; it is to see the significance of life as a whole. But the whole cannot be approached through the part—which is what governments, organized religions and authoritarian parties are attempting to do.

    The function of education is to create human beings who are integrated and therefore intelligent. [...] Intelligence is the capacity to perceive the essential, the what is; and to awaken this capacity, in oneself and in others, is education.

    Education should help us to discover lasting values so that we do not merely cling to formulas or repeat slogans; it should help us to break down our national and social barriers, instead of emphasizing them, for they breed antagonism between man and man. Unfortunately, the present system of education is making us subservient, mechanical and deeply thoughtless; though it awakens us intellectually, inwardly it leaves us incomplete, stultified and uncreative.

    Without an integrated understanding of life, our individual and collective problems will only deepen and extend. The purpose of education is not to produce mere scholars, technicians and job hunters, but integrated men and women who are free of fear; for only between such human beings can there be enduring peace.

    Education should not encourage the individual to conform to society or to be negatively harmonious with it, but help him to discover the true values which come with unbiased investigation and self-awareness. When there is no self- knowledge, self-expression becomes self-assertion, with all its aggressive and ambitious conflicts. Education should awaken the capacity to be self-aware and not merely indulge in gratifying self- expression.

    What is the good of learning if in the process of living we are destroying ourselves? As we are having a series of devastating wars, one right after another, there is obviously something radically wrong with the way we bring up our children. I think most of us are aware of this, but we do not know how to deal with it.

    Systems, whether educational or political, are not changed mysteriously; they are transformed when there is a fundamental change in ourselves. The individual is of first importance, not the system; and as long as the individual does not understand the total process of himself, no system, whether of the left or of the right, can bring order and peace to the world.

    Fuck You, World

    As an act of rebellion, I'm going to fuck the world with all its trends.