Sunday, April 30, 2006

Knowledge or Wisdom

A question which is often posed is "Which would you choose : Knowledge or Wisdom ?" I believe most people will answer wisdom. I am not surprised, because wisdom implies an "ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting" ( , while knowledge merely means that one knows a lot but does not neccessarily apply this knowledge justly. To raise a simplistic example, stories may have wise characters, but these are always good characters (or neutral at worst). There never was a "wise and evil wizard", right ? However, it is justifiable to have a "learned but twisted sorcerer", because knowledge, unlike wisdom, seems to have no bearing on one's alignment (to use D&D terms).

I am not a "learned but twisted sorcerer", but I would prefer knowledge over wisdom. The reason for my choice is because I believe that there are no objective moral truths, and hence this necessarily implies that there is no objective right or wrong. If so, then there is no "true wisdom', merely many "subjective wisdoms" each suscribing to different ideas of moral truth. Each wisdom is as utterly meaningless as the next. Why, then, should I pursue wisdom ?

I could simplify the original question , making it "Which would you choose to be instantly granted to you : Great Knowledge or Great Wisdom ? " . In this case, great wisdom is even worse a choice than before. The key point is whose "Great Wisdom" would you be granted ? It could be Satan's wisdom. It could be George Bush's. In any case, gaining "Great Wisdom" must mean the forceful destruction of your own wisdom, because it is unlikely that two systems of moral truth can coexist in one vessel (you). Hence, gaining "Great Wisdom" is absolutely useless, and in fact proves to be a negative, for you would even lose yourself.

Knowledge, on the other hand, is by far more objective than Wisdom. There are some objective truths that are immutable and independent of context . A circle cannot rightly be a triangle (although it could wrongly be intepreted to be a triangle, but this does not change the nature of the circle). Most importantly, gaining knowledge does not forcefully change my fundamental nature, because I am free to intepret the knowledge I have gained.

Hence my answer that Knowledge is better than Wisdom.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Opposite Week

Now that my exams are over I can concentrate on serious matters, ie, the elections. In fact, I just had an idea regarding the elections. I call this idea "Opposite Week".

The idea is actually very simple. I am pretty sure that you have decided, or largely decided, which party or candidate to vote for during the elections. Ok, then for "Opposite Week", what you're supposed to do is to write something supporting the other party. Yup, write something serious (not mocking or sarcastic) supporting the side you are probably not going to vote for.

The motive of "Opposite Week" is to force ourselves to understand the strengths of the people we have presumably written off. In writing something for "Opposite Week", hopefully we are able to make more informed decisions for the elections.

If you have written anything for "Opposite Week", then drop me a link to that article so that I can link to it. If anything, hopefully we would all benefit from this.

As for myself I will spend a few days writing my own "Opposite Week" article. It will probably be up in the middle of next week.

*** Opposite Week Posts ***
From Pandemonium, writing about the PAP team in Aljunied
From Myself, writing about some notable SDP ideas

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Asian Values

A letter in the ST forum, TV forum with MM Lee shows English-educated S'poreans are westernised, lack Asian values. Fix the school curriculum , suggested that we should inculcate Asian Values into our young via the school curriculum. There are many points in the letter that I do not agree with.

According to the writer,
Firstly, some of our young, especially the English-educated, are not just modernised but also westernised. They lack knowledge of Asian values which older people acquire as they get older and wiser.
Many things are implied by the above statement. The most insidious must be the idea that when one becomes wiser, one would necessarily gain knowledge of Asian values. The implication of this is that Asian values are the only 'correct' set of values and that Western values are the opposite, being unwise. This is arrogant and bigoted thinking.

Of course, a parry to my argument is that Western values are not wrong, but it is only natural for Asians to adopt Asian values. Westerners are free to adopt their own set of values. However, this counterargument is distasteful. What makes it natural for me to adopt Asian values ? Are humans born stamped with a brand saying "Adopt Asian values ?" Or are some people genetically disposed to a certain set of values ?

It must be agreed that values cannot be imposed forcefully on anybody. Nobody is inherently bound, by birth or any other factor, to a certain set of values. We must all be allowed to exercise our judgment to believe in what we wish to believe in.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Are we all crippled ?

I was thinking about dyslexic people today (just random thinking) and thus come to wonder about a few things. As you know, dyslexic people, due to certain properties of their brains, have difficulty comprehending written words. Thus dyslexia is actually a neurological limitation where the reading function is impared.

I then wondered if there exists some sort of 'advanced cognitive function' , but that this function is denied to all humans because of inherent neurological limitations. In other words, our brains are unable to process such 'advanced cognitive functions' much like how a dyslexic person is unable to discern words.

The problem is that even if some humans (maybe 1% of the population) have evolved some neural structure capable of processing the advanced function, we would still have no real evidence that such a function exists, much less being able to comprehend it. Consider an analogy, that of blind people and sighted people. The blind people have no way of verifying sight or even comprehending it (except via analogy).

Are we all crippled ? Maybe, but the frightening part is that we do not know if we are.

Friday, April 21, 2006

About Ghosts

** If you have not read the previous post, please do so. This post is sort of a commentary the previous post, hence it may not make sense if you don't read the original post.

A question that is worth asking is why are most people (including myself) afraid of ghosts ? As with my short story(read the previous post !!!) , a fear of ghosts is somewhat akin to a caterpillar being afraid of a butterfly. If humans become ghosts after they die, then ghosts should be considered as the 'next stage' of a human life. There is no reason why this 'next stage' should be feared, if fundamentally they are humans.

That marks the end of my commentary on my short story. Anyway, the format of the short story is known as Nanofiction, where the number of words used (not including the title) is exactly 55. Its quite an interesting format that allows for many concise and remarkable stories. Some Nanofiction links are Carnival of Tiny Stories and Wunderland.

One last irrelevant note-- Would you be afraid of the three spectres to the right ? Haha, I doubt it, unless they started levitating under their own power suddenly...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A short story : The Ghost

The Ghost

“I just met a ghost!”
“Oh really? Where?”
“Over Ben’s tomb! It destroyed his coffin and I think it ate his body!”
They crawled over to the coffin.
“My God, you’re right! It is empty!”
“The ghost flew all around and escaped.”
“Poor Ben, now without a corpse.”
The two caterpillars left the empty cocoon.

** The commentary on the story will appear after I have finished studying for my Physics exam.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Why my Vote Matters

A few interesting points were made, but there were also some apalling statements which shocked me. For brevity's sake, I will just post some thoughts to the interesting and apalling statements made.

Probably the most shocking point was "Which country has a level-playing field when the opposition is involved? Which country gives the opposition benefits to win a seat in parliament?". Well, I must openly admit that this is true. However, we must also realise that this does not, in any way, weaken the case for a level-playing field. Just because it is the case everywhere does not make it right or even acceptable. I admit that a level-playing field is an ideal which may not be realised, but it is also a good ideal to strive towards. Just because it may be difficult to realise doesn't mean we should abandon the quest for fairness.

In fact, I think the statement is downright dangerous thinking. This thinking is only one step away from "Which government is totally corruption-free ?" , hereby opening a watershed for corruption, justified by the fact that corruption can never be totally eradicated. Just because everyone does it, or because the right thing is extremely difficult to achieve, are both insufficent reasons in themselves.

Meanwhile, I also agree with MM that it will be extremely difficult to defeat the PAP, because it is true that the PAP is not lazy, nor dirty nor incompentent. But I believe that it may come across as being arrogant, intellectually arrogant, which is the conception that only I know what is best. Someone who is guility of this goes into a dialogue with the thinking that he is going to educate the misguided, without listening to the arguments of the other side or bothering to explain his own views. In retrospect the elderly are likely to be intellectually arrogant, with the "I know best, you young twits" kind of mindset.

Of course, I am not saying MM is intellectually arrogant, for it was a dialogue, not a monologue. His ideas were well defended and supported. But therein lies a trap, for both the MM and the PAP. Let us hope that they do not get too used to the idea that they are right, that they know what is best for Singapore, for this might lead to intellectual laziness. When this happens then we are all doomed.

Especially if we ourselves think that they know what is best for us without examining their policies and ideas.

Response to "Rein in displays of passion in public"

Let me just post some random thoughts to something I have recently read.

"Rein in displays of passion in public" writes that "there is no reason why some of our youngsters should not behave decently when they are with their partners in public." Above all, "they should not forget that their action may offend the sensitivities of the people around them." Finally, the writer proclaims "What has happened to the Asian values of modesty and decency ?"

The first point that I wish to make is the definition of decent. One definition of decent is "socially or conventionally correct" . In other words, society defines what is decent. However, as I have previously mentioned, only society can define what is decent. History cannot dictate (although it often influences) what is right or wrong today. Hence, the traditional systems of Asian thought are about as useful as that of 'modern' Western systems in judging what is decent (ie, not at all useful). Let us leave the judging to society.

Secondly, while I agree that we should be considerate of others sensitivities, again I think we must consider how many are offended before making any laws to impose on others. Surely, someone somewhere will be offended by anything that is doable. Just because someone finds the entire 6 billion population offensive is not a sufficent reason for a law to be passed to put everyone under house arrest.

Malaysia's Indecency Law

It is not uncommon knowledge that in some states of Malaysia, there are indecency laws criminalising public displays of affection. There are two main lines of thought regarding the issue.

The first line found the law unacceptable, for not everyone follows the same beliefs. The indecency law essentially forces the morals of one religion upon the populace. Hence, it it unfair.

The second line of thought, as elucidated by Malaysia's Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, is that 'public displays of affection "go against the fabric and morality of the Asian people"'. Public displays of affection are acceptable only by Western standards of morality. Hence, by our own system of moral values, the law is acceptable.

Both lines of thought have some basis to their arguments, but both have some flaws. The first, while recognising that everyone may have different beliefs and values, and that imposing foreign values on another is unfair, fails to realise that basically there exists no system which is absolutely fair. All systems of law draw from some conception of morality, and it is inevitable that some will not agree with the law. If a law is to be abolished because it is unfair or unacceptable to some party, then there will be no laws. To live in a society, one has to abide by its laws, however unacceptable. Socrates chose to drink the hemlock because he had willingly agreed to abide by the laws of Athens.

However, this is precisely the error of the second line of thought. While ideally we should obey the laws of the society, it must be understood that these laws did not appear arbitrarily from nothingness. A key is consensus, of at least the majority. It does not matter if the law is ordained by the traditional "morality of the asian people", or by some stone tablet. The law must be passed through the people.

Hence, the question is how many support and how many oppose the law. My opinion is that since a law must impose on people, there must be a large majority of supporters before it can be accepted. A simple majority cannot suffice.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Thoughts about Justice

What is Justice ? I think it has to do with the fair treatment of people, giving them what is rightly due to them. Thus, Justice involves fairness and right.

Justice also involves vengeance and retribution. For criminals, their due is punishment. This punishment is both fair and just, in that it is fair to the victims of the crime, and just because it upholds the morals which the criminal has failed to adhere to.

However, because I am innately suspicious of all things, I question Justice. Justice must ultimately be drawn from some ideas of what is right. But is there a universal right from which Justice can be drawn ? If not, then Justice ceases to be universal.

How, then, can Justice apply to members who do not suscribe to our ideas of Justice ? To forcefully impose our Justice on these members is to forgo the other principle of Justice, that of fairness and equal treatment of others. This problem cannot be resolved easily.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Use same yardstick to judge

Assume that two people are playing a game of chess. One player (A) begins with the full compliment of pieces, from Queen to Pawn. The other player (B) begins with a disadvantage, missing a few pawns and even larger pieces.

The two players continue their game seriously. Eventually, Player A wins. The question, then, is who is the better player ?

Is Player A neccessarily the better player just because he won ? Remember that he started with a significant advantage -- his victory could mean that he won by merit of his advantage, not by merit of his skill.

However, this in itself not a reason to believe that Player B is the better player. Maybe his loss was genuinely because of his inaptitude.

The conclusion, then, is that our ability to judge which player is better is severely impaired by the uneven conditions. Clearly, it would be easier to judge if the game was started with both players having equal number of pieces.

For the astute reader, the above analogy is in response to a comment by PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng, who said 'Use same yardstick to judge PAP, opposition candidates'. I admit that we should fairly use the same yardstick in judging candidates, but it is very difficult to come to useful conclusions when the playing field is uneven.

Then again, there have been cases where Player B has defeated Player A consistently. I leave it to the reader to draw his own conclusions.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Squat and Bowls

Warning : The following post might be disgusting. If you are eating / intending to eat soon, please visit again some other time.

This post is concerned about public toilets, specifically, which is better -- bowl toilets ( the normal kind, where you can sit on) or squat toilets ( the hole-in-the-ground kind, where you have to squat ).

I think public opinion is that bowl toilets are better, which explains why most public toilets [ male, I can't say for female toilets. Unless I am allowed to do research ; ) ] are filled with bowl types, with the squat types occuping the ones at the ends. Why is this so ? Are bowl toilets really better than squat types ?

Personally, I prefer squat types (when doing business). I think squat types are more hygenic than bowl types. Why? Physical contact. Do you realise that whenever you sit on a public bowl, your naked ass is in contact with something that has been in contact with other asses ( the thought is horrifying) ? Even worse, it is quite often that the bowl surface is contaminated with urine from poor 'firers', or even tissue and dung (yuks). Can anyone really tolerate this kind of hygene abuse ?

As for the squat toilets, at least there is a huge separation between yourself and the extremely contaminated surface (unless you happen to believe that the toilet is cleaner than your work desk, and you think that eating off the work desk is acceptable ) . Even if the floor is littered with stray urine or tissue paper, at most it dirties your shoes, not your skin !

Of course, the whole problem arises because public toilets are quite lousy, and I tend to think that using public toilets excessively CAN reduce your life span. Avoid public toilets whenever possible.