Category Archives: Culture

What is the Liar Paradox?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAncient Greek philosophers loved a good paradox. Some of the most famous paradoxes were developed by Zeno of Elia, who lived in the 4th century BCE. Unfortunately, Zeno’s book of paradoxes was lost and we only know about them secondhand from Aristotle and his commentators, such as Simplicius. His most famous paradoxes focus on motion, namely, Achilles and the Tortoise and Arrow. However, our discussion today is about one overlooked writer of paradoxes — Eubulides of Miletus, one of Zeno’s contemporaries. While Zeno developed dozens of paradoxes, Eubulides came up with only seven. The most famous of them is the Liar Paradox (or Liar’s Paradox); Eubulides asked, “A man says that he is lying. Is what he says true or false?” Here is the conundrum: is what the man says true or false? If it is true, it is false; and if it is false, it is true. So it is both true and false. WTF?

Graham Priest, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne and author of Logic: A Very Short Introduction, discusses how these paradoxes tied up philosophers in knots: “The paradox and its variations were discussed by Ancient philosophers, and have been subject to much discussion in both Medieval and modern logic. Indeed, those who have engaged with them in the 20th Century reads rather like a roll call of famous logicians of that period. But despite this attention, there is still no consensus as to how to solve such paradoxes. Solutions are legion; but the only thing that is generally agreed upon, is that all of them are problematic.” Two philosophers wrote extensively about the Liar Paradox: Theophrastus, a successor to Aristotle wrote three papyrus rolls, while Chrysippus, a Stoic philosopher, wrote six. Sadly, like’s Zeno’s book, these manuscripts are lost. In fact, one scholar died trying to solve the paradox — Philitas of Cos, the first major Greek writer who was both a poet and scholar, died of insomnia. His epitaph reads: “Philitas of Cos am I / ‘Twas the Liar who made me die / And the bad nights caused thereby.”

This begs the question: why should we give a shit? That is to say, more politely, why have philosophers wrestled with this question for centuries? Why does this matter now? All good questions. Meet Philosophy Professor Bradley Dowden, CSU, Sacramento and a contributor to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy who believes that the Liar Paradox is a serious problem: “To put the Liar Paradox in perspective, it is essential to appreciate why such an apparently trivial problem is a deep problem. Solving the Liar Paradox is part of the larger project of understanding truth. Understanding truth is a difficult project that involves finding a theory of truth, or a definition of truth, or a proper analysis of the concept of truth.” Thus, at the heart of the paradox is man’s age-old quest for Truth.

Eubulides would be delighted to know that the Liar Paradox is alive and well in the modern Google Era. If you read or listen to the news each day you know what I mean. Take the President of the United States (please!). Many historians, journalists, and pundits recognize that President Trump has some difficulty discerning the truth. As former FBI Director James Comey wrote in his recently published book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.” And according to The Washington Post, that has staff dedicated to tracking the President’s lies, Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading claims in just 263 days: “This tendency of Trump is all too familiar to The Fact Checker. He is quick to make claims full of superlatives — the greatest this and the most beautiful that — with little to no empirical evidence to support them… The Fact Checker has completed two-thirds of our year-long project analyzing, categorizing and tracking every false or misleading claim by Trump, as well as his flip-flops. As of our latest update Oct. 10, 2017, or his 264th day in office, the president has made 1,318 claims over 263 days. He has averaged five claims a day, even picking up pace since the six-month mark.” And herein lies the rub: each week when Trump is confronted with the lies, this is his response: “President Trump states that the story on X is fake news.” Is it true, is it false, is it true and false? Like, Philitas of Cos, Americans are inextricably trapped in the Liar Paradox, struggling with heightened anxiety and insomnia.

Certainly, as Zeno and Eubulides have shown us, the search for truth is critically important — especially in a democracy — and worthy of attention and discussion. In his essay on Truth, Michael Glanzberg notes: Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years.” Unfortunately, in the topsy-turvy Trumpian world, one has to carefully traverse the minefield of Liar Paradoxes on a daily basis to arrive at the truth.

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For further reading: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/paradox-zeno/
http://www.iep.utm.edu/par-liar/
https://blog.oup.com/2017/08/eubulides-paradoxes-philosophy/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/10/10/president-trump-has-made-1318-false-or-misleading-claims-over-263-days/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2bbaadec15fd
http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/philosophical-issues/what-is-truth/44342.aspx


The Best Signs from March for Our Lives Events

alex atkins bookshelf cultureTo paraphrase the misquoted line from the obscure play The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, “Hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned.” Today, March 24, 2018, hundreds of thousands of teenagers, along with parents, teachers, and supporters, gathered in Washington D.C. and major cities around the world for the “March for Our Lives,” organized by the shooting survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One by one, with heavy hearts — and broken hearts — the teenagers filled the streets armed with signs and banners to advocate for reasonable and stricter gun control laws and to ways to make schools safer. They refer to themselves as “the mass shooting generation.” According to the medical journal, Pediatrics, guns are the third leading cause of child deaths in America. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have died due to gun violence. David Hogg, one of the organizers, exclaimed: “We will not stop until every man, every woman, every child and every American can live without fear of gun violence.” Breaking through the sorrow and sense of loss, was a deep-seated rage against the political machine, corrupted by campaign finance laws and the insidious, powerful gun lobby. Rather than picking up guns, the students picked up markers and wrote out searing political statements on poster signs to tackle a problem that the complacent, apathetic Baby Boom generation created and condoned for decades in the shadow of a government that long ago abandoned its intended purpose — to represent the people and to serve the common good. Here are some of the best signs from the March for Our Lives events:

Love over lead

Book bags — not body bags

Stop the silence ending violence

Math before bloodbath

Books not bullets

Why are uteruses more regulated than guns?

School is made for ambition not ammunition

I should be writing my English paper, not my will!

We thought you were pro life

The scariest thing in a school should be my grades

The number of bullet holes in this poster are the number that can be shot in the time it takes to read it

I can’t even bring peanut butter to school

The only thing easier to buy in the USA than a gun is a Republican

The only gun that belongs in school is a glue gun

Students should be attending class not funerals

In my day “I survived high school” was not meant literally

If you need an assault weapon for hunting — you suck!

Generation Z: end of gun violence in the USA

NRA-endorsed politicians — our thoughts and prayers for you in November!

You can’t choose when to be pro-life

If we are old enough to be shot, we are old enough to have a say about gun violence

Girls clothing is more regulated than guns

Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets

If you aren’t smart enough to buy beer, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun

This is not a moment — it’s a movement. #NeverAgain

Am I next?

I am 6 — I want to see 60

We are the change

Murdered in school — and still no gun laws. How come Congress?

Protect schools not guns

My outrage does not fit on a sign

My right to live is greater than a gun

Arm teachers with pencils not guns

Thoughts & prayers, blah, blah, blah — #neveragain

How many more?

When injustice becomes law resistance becomes duty

There are more laws for my pussy than for guns

The NRA is not a brancy of the US government

My grandchildren are worth more than your guns

My school district won’t give me the password to use wifi, yet you want me to carry a gun?

Are guns more precious than children

No more thoughts and prayers — we want policy and change

NRA — die bitch!

The only thing easier to buy than guns is the GOP

If only my uterus could shoot bullets, then it wouldn’t need regulation

We call BS!

Kids over campaign contributions

SINators for sale

Make America great again? Make America ours again!

One child is worth more than all the guns in America

Did you have a favorite? Please share any slogans not listed above.

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Read related posts: The School Shooting that Inspired Elton John’s Song, Ticking
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For further reading: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/emma-gonzalez-apos-one-biggest-153956763.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/us/student-protest-movements.html
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/gun-deaths-wars/

 

 


The Six Types of Courage

alex atkins bookshelf educationYou cannot imagine a more unlikely trio for an important life journey: an empty-headed scarecrow, a rusty tin woodman, and a cowardly lion. But those are Dorothy’s companions on the famous yellow brick road to the Land of Oz — from the imagination of L. Frank Baum. While Dorothy seeks to return home, the scarecrow wants a brain, the woodman longs for a heart, and the lion desires courage. When Dorothy accuses the lion of being a coward, he responds: “You’re right, I am a coward! I haven’t any courage at all. I even scare myself.” We can presume, that the Cowardly Lion seeks physical courage, that is, “acting intentionally in the face of risks, threats, or obstacles in the pursuit of morally worthy goals.” The classic example is the fireman who rushes into a burning house to save a helpless infant. In mythology and literature, the lion is traditionally a symbol of power, wisdom, confidence, bravery, and pride. Baum’s lion lacking courage, of course, is dramatically ironic. But despite what the Cowardly Lion believes, there is much more to courage than physical strength and bravado.

Dr. Lisa Dungate, PsyD, a parenting coach and child/family therapist, along with best friend Jennifer Armstrong, an award-winning author of historical fiction for children and teens, created Lion’s Whiskers, a fascinating blog that shares compelling stories and insight to help parents and their children to develop courage to meet the many challenges that life presents; they state: “We have found one of the best ways to inspire courage is through story — traditional stories, family stories, true stories from history — and by giving our children opportunities to practice courage every day.” [Incidentally, the title of the blog was inspired by a charming and instructive Ethiopian folk tale about a healer who teaches a woman how to be courageous.] Dungate and Armstrong provide a new insight into the understanding of courage. First, by definition: “Courage, very broadly, involves making a decision or taking action where a risk is involved — something actual or imagined to fear. Courage is the necessary force ensuring growth rather than retreat.” Second, by classification: they believe that there are six types of courage — and, taken together, are critical to deal with the inevitable slings and arrows of life. Briefly, here is their classification of courage:

Physical courage.  This is the courage most people think of first:  bravery at the risk of bodily harm or death.  It involves developing physical strength, resiliency, and awareness.

Social courage.  This type of courage is also very familiar to most of us as it involves the risk of social embarrassment or exclusion, unpopularity or rejection.  It also involves leadership.

Intellectual courage.  This speaks to our willingness to engage with challenging ideas, to question our thinking, and to the risk of making mistakes.  It means discerning and telling the truth.

Moral courage.  This involves doing the right thing, particularly when risks involve shame, opposition, or the disapproval of others.  Here we enter into ethics and integrity, the resolution to match word and action with values and ideals.  It is not about who we claim to be to our children and to others, but who we reveal ourselves to be through our words and actions.

Emotional courage.  This type of courage opens us to feeling the full spectrum of positive emotions, at the risk of encountering the negative ones.  It is strongly correlated with happiness.

Spiritual courage.  This fortifies us when we grapple with questions about faith, purpose, and meaning, either in a religious or nonreligious framework.

Courage is multifaceted, and as such, a sticky wicket for research. Dungate and Armstrong elaborate: “Courage remains a difficult construct to accurately and categorically define for social researchers, psychologists, theologians, and philosophers alike (Woodard & Pury, 2007; Goud, 2005).  [We] are in the process of conducting research to compile an accurate definition for courage for the Lion’s Whiskers blog.  At this point, we fully acknowledge that our perspective is wholly Western and we look forward to a more multicultural, and thus universal, definition of courage as we develop this blog.

The study they cite, Courage: Its Nature and Development (ResearchGate, March 2005), psychologist Nelson Goud identifies three dimensions of courage (fear, appropriate response, and a higher purpose) as well as three main themes in the developmental process for learning courage: 1. building confidence and self-trust; 2. perceiving a worthy purpose; and 3. managing fear. (Gould also cites research that suggests six different types of courage: physical, moral, civil, vital, psychological, and existential.) In terms of learning courage, Dungate and Armstrong believe that four more themes need to be added: 4. empowering decision-making; 5. intention and willing action; 6. opportunities to practice and persevere; and 7. ensuring a sense of belonging and self-worth.

Indeed, Dungate and Armstrong as the pied-pipers of courage, weave the strands of myths, fables, folklore, as well as true stories to form a sort of “courage cloak” to wrap around yourselves and your children, “to help you muster courage in the face of fear, to be an inspirational parent to your children, and foster the security and hope for your children’s future.” These are exactly the types of stories that the world needs now, particularly in America, where spineless, feckless politicians, that pull the levers behind the curtain, present dreadful role models. And these are the stories, passed on from generation to generation, that never get old.

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For further reading: http://www.lionswhiskers.com/p/six-types-of-courage.html
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264805603_Courage_Its_Nature_and_Development
Penguin Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier

 


Tribute to Parkland High School

parkland-school-art-atkins-designIn times of great tragedy and grief, we often turn to poetry to assure us that we are not alone, that others are feeling the same sadness and grief. Graphic design, like poetry, uses symbols to help heal, to express the unfathomable grief that the Parkland High School community is experiencing in the wake of the horrific mass shooting. The poster features an eagle (the school’s mascot) soaring toward the heavens, surrounded by 17 stars representing the innocent lives that were taken. The imagery is reminiscent of John Magee’s beautiful poem, High Flight:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Below the soaring eagle is the school campus highlighted by the warm glow of the sun at daybreak, ushering in a new day — filled with hope and with passionate, determined voices that seek justice and action from complacent and indifferent politicians and lawmakers. The stars in the heaven represents the glimmer of hope that exists for a future without hatred and violence.

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Corporate Money and Influence Undermines Our Democracy

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsSenator Kirsten Gellibrand (NY) responds to the question: why hasn’t there been any meaningful reform on gun violence in Congress: “First, I just want to say that my heart is broken. I mean, this is unfathomable how many deaths we’ve had to see over and over and over again. And Congress has done nothing. The silence is literally deafening. And they don’t get anything done because the NRA has a chokehold on Congress. The NRA is concerned only with gun sales. It is literally all about money. It is all about greed. It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. And we’ve seen death after death after death, and it has to stop… [The NRA] has so much power that nothing was done after Aurora. Nothing was done after Sandy Hook. Nothing was done after Charleston. Nothing was done after Las Vegas. And nothing was done now [Parkland school shooting]… that is the power. It’s the power of money. It’s the power of communications. It’s the fear they instill in members [of Congress] — and it’s wrong. It’s morally wrong. I think it is a [Republican and Democrat] problem and I can tell you what the solution is. The solution is they need to listen to these kids. They’re starting a movement and taking this into their own hands and [speaking] truth to power. Because for me, when nine years ago I sat down with a mom and a dad, who just lost their teenage daughter to a stray bullet, and I met with her classmates — the anger and fear and resentment in their community because Congress does nothing, made me want to change. And so the solution to this problem is listening to those kids, and hearing their pain, their frustration, and anger and doing something about it… I came from a hunting family, but I can tell you the minute you meet a mom or dad who’s lost their child [to gun violence], you know… I recently met a mom who lost her four-year-old son on a park bench in Brooklyn. That’s in our neighborhood, that’s our community, right there. So we need to do somethng about it and I think this whole conversation has a chance of changing because of these kids. You know, people like Emma Gonzalez telling her story, speaking so forcefully, it could change… and to shame any member of Congress that takes money from the NRA and calling them out and holding them accountable. [When asked, nothing happens in Washington; is Washington owned by the corporations?]. Well, yeah, I believe that first of all, we have dark money in politics. We have unlimited corporate spending with no accountability, no transparency, so we have to get money out of politics. I’ve just banned corporate PAC checks, actually, because I think it is really important that [we lead by example]. I believe that other Congressmen have already joined [the bandwagon]… Cory Booker did right away, and other people are doing it… several of my colleagues. And the reason I think we have to lead by example on this is because we have start taking the money out of politics because it undermines our democracy. Money is not free speech. I do not believe that the Supreme Court saying that money is speech and corporations have the same free speech right as Americans. That is not true, it is false. We need publicly funded elections. You need to get the soft corruption out. You need to get the hard corruption out. And you need to take away the voice and the outside influence that corporations have over members of Congress — and the NRA is one of the worst offenders.” [emphasis added]

Excerpt from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert broadcast on Feb 20, 2018

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How Much Food is Wasted Each Year?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerica is the land of plenty, particularly when it comes to food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $7,023 per year on food. That can be broken down into groceries ($4,015) and dining out ($3,008). Now let’s do the math. Since there are about 125.82 million households in the U.S., the total amount that the Americans spend on food is a staggering $883.6 billion per year. That’s a lot of food. In fact, it is so much food that 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is not eaten. An average of $162 billion worth of food is wasted each year — that’s right: a billion with a “B.”

Food waste is a huge problem in America. Consider these sobering statistics presented by the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI): broken down by household, the average American family throws out about 25% of the beverages and food that they buy each year. A family of four, for example, wastes about $1,350 to $2,275 worth of food each year — which means that all the labor, water, and fuel that went into growing and shipping that food is also wasted: a loss of over $162 billion per year. To combat food waste, the AFFI is encouraging consumers to buying frozen food and frozen prepared meals, as well as freezing leftovers, meals, and ingredients.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelfcommunity by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: How Much Do People Spend on Music?
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For further reading: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/31/how-much-americans-are-spending-on-housing-and-food-per-year.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/americans-spending-food-bls-2017-2
http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/
https://www.statista.com/statistics/183635/number-of-households-in-the-us/
http://www.frozenfoodfacts.org/
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/frozen-a-food-waste-solution_us_579240ffe4b0a86259d1290b


Write Your Obituary And Live Your Life Inspired by It

alex atkins bookshelf educationIf you are fortunate, you will have at least one high school or college professor who contributed immeasurably to your life. I can recall one college professor, Fr. P., a brilliant, witty Jesuit who taught one of the most popular classes on campus: Moral Philosophy. In all my years in the academe, he was the only professor to receive warm applause on the first day of class and a heartfelt and resounding standing ovation at the end of the semester — bringing him and eventually us to tears.

Although he was advanced in his age, his gray hair notwithstanding, he was a youthful as any undergraduate student. He was lively, engaged, and walked with a bounce in his step; and he was always smiling. He began the course with a dramatic moment: he placed on oversized off-white safari hat with a leather band on his head. The sight of this diminutive priest with a large hat, making him appear like some humanoid lamp, elicited hearty chuckles from the students. Despite his comical appearance, Fr. P. addressed us in a serious tone: “For the rest of the semester I will be your guide through the vast jungle of life. Although I have traveled through it many times, there are still many parts that are unknown. The paths we will walk on are generally narrow ones, carved out by the footsteps of many students that have preceded you. Yet, there are many paths that have not been thoroughly explored; moreover, there are many paths awaiting to be made…” Fr. P. explained that his role as a guide was not to know the answer to every question we asked, but to lead us the foundational knowledge and values that would help us ask the right questions and learn where and how to seek the right answers. He took off his hat, and our fascinating journey of discovery began.

One day, after a engaging discussion on mortality, he turned to the class and captivated us with this lesson: “I want each of you to write your obituary — and live your life inspired by it; if you do this correctly, you will never get lost.” Unfortunately, back then we were sophomores, wise fools, and not having enough wisdom and life experience, we thought that this was a routine homework assignment to be completed in an hour, crossed it off the day’s to-do list, and then promptly forgotten. But the truth is, that homework assignment has pleasantly haunted me throughout my life because it underscores one of life’s great truisms: you are your choices. It is that obituary that I wrote as a young man that has remained mostly unchanged decades later. Like a reliable compass, it has guided my life, through calm and tempest-tossed seas, to bring me to the steady shores that I now walk on. Now with the wisdom of age, I can appreciate the tremendous gift that Fr. P. gave each of us. Perhaps, this was the source of his warm smile: I am giving you something so precious, but it will take you years to find out how important it is, as you discover yourself and the world around you.

I suppose if Fr. P. were still teaching now, given that education has been transformed by the digital revolution, he might approach this exercise a little differently. Perhaps, today, he would say, “Write your word cloud, and live your life inspired by it. ” But no matter how you write it, as obituary or word cloud, it will be your guide through the jungle. And as Fr. P. promised, you will never get lost.

Class dismissed.

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The Wisdom of Yoda
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