Housing Insecurity In Florida: A Proposed Solution

Florida has the third highest rate of homelessness in the United States. About 40% of people who experience homelessness have a disability. There are some things available for people who experience housing insecurity, but not a whole lot to help people get on their feet. There’s not many places that will offer a home outright to people who stay in shelters or people with very low incomes.

I have studied Universal Basic Income (UBI). Through the test trials that have been done on UBI, we have learned that most people actually spend the money on things they need. What’s more, Finland offers homes to people who experience homelessness and has seen a significant drop in homelessness because of this. It was with these things in mind that I decided to start a new nonprofit to help those who experience housing insecurity, Housing Initiative of Florida.

We are a Housing First organization that will be offering grants to those who experience housing insecurity. We are in our pre-launch phase right now. Our goal is to help solve the issue of housing insecurity. Our mission is to provide a pathway to homeownership to at-risk residents of Florida. Grants will be issued to eligible residents of Florida to purchase a home in Florida.

This is a way to get people off the streets permanently. It may seem like a radical idea to some, but the obvious solution of giving people homes or money to purchase a home is one that has rarely been tried in the United States. Yet, in the places it has been tried, it has been shown to work. This audacious plan is required to keep people off the streets. We hope you’ll join us in meeting our mission and serving the communities we love.

(Originally posted a The New Floridian.)

Housing First and Housing Initiative of Florida

I specialized in ethics when I studied philosophy. There’s many aspects of ethics and one of them is adequate housing.

I’ve recently written about housing here. It’s not an issue I’ve covered a lot on my blog, but it’s an issue I’ve discussed elsewhere quite a bit.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, NPR did a yearlong report on the need for housing and housing first initiatives. Housing first initiatives, in general, see the need for independent, safe housing as prior and separate to others things, such as mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. Housing first sees housing as a basic right for individuals and doesn’t pre-suppose treatments or other “strings-attached” when it comes to getting a place to stay.

I’ve been an advocate of housing first for several years. Now I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m starting a nonprofit to help at-risk individuals gain a pathway to homeownership. You can check us out here.

Help End The Affordable Housing Crisis

If you happen to live in a safe and secure home, you’re incredibly lucky. For millions of people, it’s just not possible. People with disabilities, battered and abused women and children, people with substance abuse disorders–they all, typically, struggle with finding a place to live, let alone a home of their own.

I grew up with an abusive father, as many people know. He battered my mom. For a while, I stayed in a shelter for abused women with my mom when I was young.

The struggle for many people to find their own place–a safe and affordable home of their own–is all too real. That’s why I’ve taken the time to do some research on this and try to come up with a solution: to create a non-profit that enables people to purchase a quality–but inexpensive–home of their own in Florida.

Take a minute to read about the issue of Housing First.

UPDATE: For those who think HUD is the answer, check out this article on HUD. The problem goes beyond Ben Carson.

Why UBI Should Become A Key Issue For Political Platforms

It’s estimated that about 7 million jobs will be lost due to automation over the next 10 years. Many of these jobs are cashier and general retail jobs. Already, Walmart has stores that are completely cashier-free. The savings in having automation is partly what drives these advances.

Many people worry about lost jobs. And the people hit hardest–if we don’t do something–is and will continue to be low wage earners.

A UBI is a solution that nips this right in the bud.

It’s time for UBI to become a more mainstream idea.

I first read about UBI over 8 years ago in graduate school. Back then, it was an idea in the philosophy world that didn’t seem to gain much traction. I liked it, however. So much so that I became an advocate for UBI, having volunteered for Basic Income Earth Network and written about the success of UBI-like programs used by Native American tribes.

Most of the arguments for UBI fit nicely within the capitalist framework. So don’t let anyone tell you it’s a form of socialism or communism. There are various proposals to funds a UBI and current estimates are that a UBI–one that really only covers basic needs–would be about $800-1,000 per person per month.

This is not nearly enough to live The American Dream, but it’s enough to keep people from going hungry.

There’s plenty of justification for UBI. The idea has been fleshed out enough over the years that there are more than enough arguments for it.

The real questions are those yet to be asked and answered, such as: At what age does a UBI begin? 18 years old? Or working age (16)? How will a UBI be funded? Exactly how much should a UBI be?

 

 

 

Some Normative Reflections on AI

We expect artificial intelligence (AI) to be smart. We may even expect it to be smarter than us. Technology, after all, has an aura of intelligence around it in general and AI, perhaps, even more so.

I want to examine some of the underlying normative aspects applied to AI. In particular, I want to ask: if our goal is to simulate human beings, shouldn’t we look for things such as flaws in thinking, bias, and, maybe even more controversial, psychological disabilities?

Currently in the United States, about 1 in 4 people have or will experience psychological disability. That’s quite a lot of people with quite a lot of “symptoms.” It’s still very taboo to talk about psychological disability. It’s perhaps worse to be seen as “endorsing” it.

However, a very brilliant philosopher of mind once told me that, “If you understand schizophrenia, you understand the whole of the human mind.”

Perhaps that is so. It does seem to people who try to “unlock the black box of schizophrenia” are trying to peer into the deepest parts of the human psyche. However, many attempts to open this black box using a biomedical model seem to have failed. That leaves us, then, with psychosocial accounts of psychosis, of which I am currently persuaded.

Famously, some philosophers have argued we simply cannot program for natural language. As AI becomes more and more real, it seems these arguments may be invalid. Moreover, others have argued we cannot program wisdom or emotions. These things, too, seem to be coming closer and closer to our understanding.

What I want to look at, however, is the attempt by some to create “superhumans” with AI. These “superhumans” do not necessarily need emotion, they don’t rely on bias at times, and they simply do not experience psychosis. These are considered “flaws.”

If the goal is to simulate humans, these efforts, of course, fail. If the goal is to create an uberman, they may succeed.

I want to question the assumption that we should be creating “superhumans” when we create bots. I want to argue that creating a genuine human mind artificially is not only “good enough,” it may be better than our superhuman efforts.

The human mind is still something that researchers still look at, examine and query about. It is amazing–even with its “flaws.” Consider my example. My mind has, at various times, produced visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations. We still do not know how these things precisely occur. If we did, we’d have a “cure” for so-called schizophrenia.

Current psychosocial theories suggest that people who experience psychosis are far more likely to have experienced trauma. We know, then, that trauma, such as child abuse or neglect, is highly correlated with the experience of psychosis. If trauma is the cause in some people, we still don’t know how the mind produces hallucinations. Making a bot, then, that can not only experience the harshness of trauma, but can, if all the horrific conditions are met, produce hallucinations, would be a feat in understanding not only the human mind but the bot mind.

Why program for “vulnerabilities,” you may ask? I attest that when people experience psychological disabilities, like psychosis, they are a testament to the fact that something, whatever it is, has gone horribly, horribly wrong. In other words, there has been some deep transgression that has caused the mind to produce what we consider “abnormal” activity. Users of AI–or, perhaps, fellows, friends and partners to AI–need to see these things produced in order to know that something has gone horribly wrong.

What this means is that we will have to treat AI the same way we treat humans both legally and ethically. A transgression toward a bot would be the same as a transgression toward a human.

If you are looking, then, to create an uberman that you can do with as you wish, who will be at your beck and call, who will fight for you, learn for you and do your various bidding, you may not want to consult me.

If, on the other hand, you see humans as “good enough” as they are–even with their “flaws”–and you wish to produce more of them, learn about them and replicate them in the form of hardware, I’m the person you’re after.

 

Transcending My First Memory

I’m going to share with you some things that have been kept quiet in my family for many years. It starts with my first memory. My first memory is of my dad beating my mom. It’s a sad memory and I’ve rarely told it to many people. I can still see my mom, in desperation, trying to fend off my dad.

We never talked much about abuse in my family, but it regularly occurred. It’s time to shine a light on this and move forward.

I am a survivor of traumatic neglect and a witness to domestic violence and child abuse.

I was a quiet and somber child, very observant. I rarely got in trouble. I also experienced a lot of anxiety.

At about the age of 8, I was asked by a judge who I wanted to live with–mom or dad–as my parents went through a divorce. I picked my mom. I thought this would be better and in some ways it was. However, my mom soon married another abusive man, who not only chased her around the room with an ax, but who also abused, in various ways, my two younger brothers.

As a bystander, as a child, I didn’t know what I could do. But when the man my mom married came into my room and told me to pull down my panties, I knew what to do. I pushed him off the bed. But there was little I could do to prevent the abuse happening to my mom and brothers. Occasionally, the man my mom married would want us other kids to participate in abuse and torment. I always refused.

The man my mom married died in a blizzard. I’m sure this was sad for my mom, but it was liberating for me. I attended his funeral and, when a box of Kleenex was passed to me, I looked at it like, “What do I need this for?”

However, I had to live with my dad again for a while. It was during this time I experienced neglect. I was about 12 years old. Although my dad sometimes cooked–and I remember the things he did cook–there was often very little in the fridge. I remember ketchup sandwiches. I even remember stealing money from my dad to buy food from Taco Delight.  Some of my friends’ parents noticed these things and reported them to my mom, who was doing her best to tie up loose ends with the man who had died in the blizzard.

When I was about 13, while living back with my mom, I experienced my first bout of extreme sadness. It was depression.

At 14, I became pregnant. I also moved to a different state–Florida.

Florida has a law which states that every county has to have a school for teen parents. I attended one–now called The Chiles Academy. Of course, I gained a high school diploma, but I also took parenting classes and learned about various kinds of abuse and neglect. I tried to raise my daughter differently from how I was raised. I went by the book. I never, ever wanted her to experience the things I experienced.

My time at The Chiles Academy was great. My relationship with my daughter, I think, was great. After four years–and after meeting many different politicians and leaders–I graduated with a high school diploma.

I decided to go to college. I applied for Daytona Beach Community College (now, Daytona State College). I did fairly well in all my classes–except Math. However, I decided I was ready to transfer, so I applied to Stetson University. I was accepted.

Being a non-traditional, working class, commuter student at Stetson was, well, different. I didn’t come across many other students with my background. Very few of them could related to the experiences of being a young parent.

And, all the while, I was barely treated for the abuse and neglect I experienced growing up.

However, even though I didn’t make too many friends on campus, I did find solidarity and support in the campus culture. Many Stetson faculty, staff and students are involved in the community and social justice activities. I got involved in social justice issues.

I wrote two theses: one on facial affect (for psychology) and one on colonialism (for philosophy).

Not long after I graduated undergrad, my dad got sick with cancer. I had to travel back to Texas to deal with his death.

Soon, I applied for graduate school at the University of North Florida. While there, I did very, very well in academics, teaching and research.

Still I had not gotten help for my abuse.

I had learned to be distant from my feelings. I didn’t take time to process things and transcend them. However, I spoke out about injustice toward anyone else whenever I could. This was empowerment for me. It was as if I was making up for all the times I couldn’t do anything for my brothers and mom. I sometimes wonder if other people who are passionate about social justice are survivors like me.

While in graduate school, I had my first experience of psychosis. Of course, the current routine is: drug them up and hospitalize them.

I wasn’t seen as a survivor of horrific things who had accomplished so much. I was seen as a “schizophrenic.”

New research sheds light on the traumatic experiences people have which lead to psychosis. Instead of seeing these as “ill people” with an “incurable brain disease,” we should look at them as potential survivors of domestic torment and adversity. After all, if you don’t think I experienced adversity, you don’t know the statistics on teen moms. Merely graduating high school is a very real accomplishment for people with my background, let alone going on to college and grad school.

If you glance around my portfolio, you’ll find I have indeed accomplished a lot. My most recent accomplishment is what I’m doing now: transcending my negative childhood experiences.

 

 

A Note About This Blog

This blog is my personal blog. It’s in no way a professional blog. This is where I try out ideas, post more personal things and try on different hats. If you’d like to see my more professional work, I encourage you to check out my posts at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog. I hope you take the posts here with the spirit they are intended and with a grain of salt. This is, after all, my little playground for thoughts and ideas.

A Couple More Pounds Down

This morning I weighed myself, like I usually do, and noticed I dropped a couple more pounds. I’m not stressing over my weight. It’s a different game this time around. And it’s starting to flow naturally.

On Logic and My Favorite Bookstore

A while back, I went to my favorite bookstore in DeLand, Florida. There, I got the book Logic and Philosophy: A Modern Introduction.

Even though I don’t teach logic anymore, it’s important to keep up the skills. This little textbook has exercises to do to keep me sharp. I work logic problems throughout the week.

My favorite bookstore, as I said, is located in DeLand, Florida–the city I went to undergrad in. It’s a quaint little city and a quaint little, independent bookstore: The Family Book Shop of DeLand. I highly recommend going there if you happen to find yourself in DeLand.

Stalking Awareness

Last month was National Stalking Awareness Month. So I learned a bit about it.

In general, stalking is defined as any unwanted attention directed toward a person or group. Women are more likely to be victims of stalking than men–and stalking is a behavioral indicator that can lead to violence.

I have friends who have been serious victims of stalking in recent months. Because of that, I have also taken some precautions of my own, learning from them.

UPDATE: Please also see the Wiki on Cyberstalking.

Bye, Bye, Christianity.

I have been going to church and involved in Bible study for over a year now. After some consideration–and really trying–I’ve decided Christianity is not for me.

My counselor agrees that I shouldn’t delve too deeply into it, too. There’s a fine line between craziness and spirituality. I don’t want to blur those lines, wherever they may be.

So, bye, bye, Christianity. You helped me get through some things and I will always appreciate it.

On Stigma

Stigma–or, rather, discrimination–regarding mental illness is very common. Most people, alas, are unaware of the stereotypes and biases they hold in their head regarding mental illness.

I have been an advocate against stigma and discrimination for several years. I’ve seen far too many instances of bias and discrimination. I couldn’t help but be an advocate.

I have volunteered with organizations and have watched others grow. The organization I am currently watching–and it’s one to look out for–is Students With Schizophrenia. Founded by Cecilia McGough (Penn), Students With Schizophrenia aims to assist and help college students diagnosed with schizophrenia. Look for Students With Schizophrenia at a campus near you.

Four Pounds in Five Days

It’s been 5 days since I started my new diet and exercise regimen. So far, I have lost 4 pounds.

I am taking this routine a little simpler than I have in the past. There’s no pressure to lose weight, no external forces weighing upon me to shed pounds. It’s simply something I want to do–and if it doesn’t happen, so be it.

As I said before, I’m much more laid back than I have been in the past. This new-found peace is much more healthy than attitudes I’ve previously had.

Weight Loss And Fitness

I’m in therapy. My therapist makes me do actual work. I get cognitive behavioral therapy. One thing I’m supposed to do is take at least one walk per day. Because it’s been cold, I have stopped that routine. As a result of that and the holidays, I gained a few pounds. So I’m ramping up my weight loss and fitness goals. I re-installed SparkPeople on my phone this morning. It helps me track my calories and exercise. Here’s a before picture of me. Let’s hope I can meet my fitness goals!

 

PsyCom.Net

Recently, a representative from PsyCom.Net contacted me. If you haven’t heard of PsyCom, it’s a mental health website that was started by the renowned Ivan Goldberg, who developed a depression assessment. The representative from PsyNet thought my readers may be interested in checking out the site. So I encourage you to check it out!

Wearing Glasses

I’m vain. I admit it. For the longest time, I wouldn’t wear glasses. However, sometime last year, my contacts scratched my eye. My eye turned out to be OK, but it left an emotional scar. I’m afraid to wear contacts now–even though my doctor said it was fine to do so. So, recently, I got a new pair of glasses–after having my last ones for three years. So far, I like them. They go with both my causal and professional looks.

Oppenheimer’s Jewishness

If there was anyone I’d want to write my biography, it would be Ray Monk. He and I knew of one another mostly through Facebook because of our philosophy backgrounds. Ray is an amazing person and is also a superb biographer.

I just read Chapter One of A Life Inside the Center and I thought I’d jot down some quick notes here.

It seems that Oppenheimer grew up in an unusual Jewish family–one that somewhat rejected Judaism, in a sense. This, as Ray Monk argues, helps explains why, later in life, Oppenheimer would be described as having no identity. Was he able to point to fellow Jewish people and say, “Those are my people”? I don’t know. But his colleague Rabi didn’t think so.

Ray Monk is careful to point out the various ways one can be Jewish: culturally, ethnically, racially, religiously and as a nationality. I’m no expert on Jewish history, but there appears to have been a time when these things were being brought out and, some of them, such as nationality, rejected by some Jewish people themselves as a way of assimilating into American society.

Oppenheimer seems to have grown up in a household where, if there was anything it meant to be Jewish, it was morally. This idiosyncratic view–the moral devoid of the religious–of what it meant to be Jewish was somewhat new thinking among some Jewish people. But it seems familiar when one looks to Immanuel Kant, who also developed a moral system apart from the religious. Kant’s famous axiom is: act according to the maxim you could will to be a universal law. Oppenheimer grew up in something akin to a Kantian home, then.

The Real Adam Smith

It’s common to invoke “deep thinkers” for one’s political purposes. But before you name Adam Smith the pioneer of so-called free-market capitalism, it’s best to actually understand what he said. Here’s an article that will help with that.

Why Have A Military?

In the book Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, it is argued that killing civilians does not lead to a military defeat. That is, if one wants to defeat an enemy, one has to defeat the military of the enemy. What follows from this? Well, it could be the end of all militaries. Consider the following argument:

  1. The military does not function to protect civilian populations because killing or harming civilian populations does not lead to a military defeat.
  2. The military-to-military combat is the most effective form of defeating an enemy.
  3. Thus, militaries really only exist to combat one another. Civilians don’t need them.
  4. From 3, military-to-military combat serves no purpose other than defeating another military.
  5.  We should not have militaries because they serve no purpose other than defeating another military.

This is an imperfect argument, but it seems to follow from the fact that killing civilians does not lead to military defeat.

 

The Times They Are A Changin’

I recently had a discussion with someone from Generation X about Generation Y (Millennials). This person said, based on hearsay rather than evidence, that Millennials don’t want to work, need a “safe space,” and don’t have any employable skills.

I quickly told this person that, in essence, every older generation says these same things about younger generations. If you’re a Baby Boomer, remember when your folks were worried about you listening to Elvis? Yeah. Same deal.

Interestingly, Generation X was also so maligned. We were considered bad for listening to Nirvana. You’d think by now, with this type of thing happening every generation, that we’d learn to respect the younger generation. You’d think we’d learn, to boot, to respect every generation.

I pointed these things out to my interlocutor. And then I said, “So what if it’s true about Millennials? I hope they change the world!”

Think about the complains my interlocutor had: why is working an essential value in our culture? Why only develop employable skills? And what’s wrong with being softer and wanting safe spaces–spaces free from abuse?

I assert that there’s nothing wrong with any of this. While I myself may be somewhat careerist and interested in developing marketable skills, that doesn’t mean the argument that employability should be an essential value in our society flies. What’s more, many people who complain about “safe spaces” are really just defending an abusive status quo.

The times may be a changin’.

Part Of My Family Is From Sweden. I Have Wanted To Return. Here’s Why.

Dear President Trump,

Some of my family came from Sweden. I grew up with a Swedish grandmother whose family probably immigrated here during the Swedish famine. Every year, my grandmother would send us homemade cookies, fudges and other things in a tin for Christmas. She never forgot a birthday, even with all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For the past few years, I have thought about immigrating back to Sweden. I’ll probably stay put for personal reasons, but I wanted to let you know why I have thought this.

Sweden is (mostly) a socialist democracy. In addition, it always ranks high for business–higher than the U.S. Life expectancy and happiness indexes are higher than the U.S., as well. What’s even better, Sweden is one of the best places for gender equality and a much better place for women to live. Sweden has given birth to numerous wonderful ideas and has given the world great thinkers.

I don’t know if you care to attract people like me. But if you do, you could start by making our country better than it is. People like me–the ones who may or may not leave America–are looking for things like the above.

Best,

Jennifer

Does Finding Truth Require The Right Attitude?

I’ve become laid-back in my old age. I think I’ve also become more receptive to truth. In my quest to treat and think about schizophrenia, for example, I’ve turned in my old, piercing, rigorous mind and exchanged it for a more humble yet adventurous attitude.

In the world of academia, we often find disparate conversations going on. We find scholars who are unable to communicate with non-academics–but, worse, we find academics unable to communicate with each other.

Since I’ve always taken an interdisciplinary approach, I have tried my best to keep up with conversations in many areas of study. Interdisciplinary work is difficult. One reason why is because one has to become a translator of academic jargon–from psychology to philosophy–and then, for me, a translator from academic jargon into ordinary language.

I do my best, as any translator does, but I may miss the tiny nuances when I translate into ordinary language.

These piercing minds–which I used to possess–give us these conversations. It’s an attitude toward truth that most scholars have which constructs towers of babble upwards towards to heavens.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve taken a different approach to truth these days. I’m fond of pragmatism–in a nutshell, what is true is what works. Pragmatism is a world-centered approach. It isn’t looking for some abstract truth-in-the-sky. It is looking for truth in the world.

But is there a specific attitude one must have in order to be receptive to truth? I think there may be. One must, first of all, be an adventurous explorer, willing to try new things. In my quest for treating schizophrenia, for instance, I have had to be open to trying new medications, seeing if they work, and trying new therapies. I even prayed and undertook an exploration of Christianity because Christian psychology can re-structure cognitive processes. My exploration and willingness to try new things will be proven to work for me if my symptoms diminish over the long term.

In addition to being an explorer, one must have the attitude of a shred of skepticism, too. I know that treatments that may work for me may not work for everyone. I have to discuss progress with other people with mental illness and explore large-scale studies to see whether my treatments work for others.

Notice I focus on what works for me. Whatever works is what is true. Truth is what happens to an idea I may have. My idea becomes true just when it works.

I don’t think I need to have the piercing mind, engaged in the harsh minutia of conversations in academia in order to find truth. I just need the right attitude and the ability to explore.

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. However, the New Year coincided with some changes in me. They aren’t resolutions, but they are a general direction I’m taking my life. They range from pretty basic to seemingly difficult. They are as follows:

  1. Don’t date assholes.
  2. Go to the library more.
  3. Create a new idea.

I’m doing well on the assholes part. I think that I should date someone who deserves me, my love and what I can bring to the table. I am enough. I am more than enough. I don’t need someone. And I’m willing to wait for the right person, if the right person ever comes along.

I’m also doing well on going to the library. I’ve checked out 5 books since the New Year. This should be something I can keep up because I love reading.

Creating a new idea is more difficult. I genuinely love learning, studying and learning about other people’s ideas. This would have been around the time I would have finished a PhD had I not gotten sick. So I figured I’d do something I would have done had I finished: create a new idea. It’s a tall order. But, even if it’s a small idea, I’ll take it.

Again, these are not technically New Year’s resolutions. They are just the way my life is unfolding and it happens to be around the same time as the New Year.

On Paranoia: A Brief Reflection

I have a friend with mental illness who thinks that “the powers that be” intentionally shut certain people down by making them go insane. My friend thinks this when my friend is healthy.

I want to think a bit about paranoia: its psychological causes.

I have delved into the literature on paranoia and psychosis in general and found it, quite honestly, unsatisfactory. I propose that paranoia, in at least some cases, is caused by subliminal or unconscious (as in, subconscious) threats. Then, when these threats come to the fore, they bring with them out-of-control beliefs that constitute what we know as paranoia.

Take, for example, a person who is living their life in academia (to take an example I am familiar with). This person, we presume, has the right to academic freedom, a subset of free speech. This person–call her Sally–creates academic articles that are transgressive to current political understandings. They, theoretically, undermine the whole of a nation. Sally goes on with her life. It’s just an argument, after all. Possible implementation is for someone else. Thus, Sally herself is no real threat when it comes to overthrowing a government.

Years after creating her argument–that is, her academic paper–she starts to become psychotic, triggered by something. Suddenly, she thinks the government in many ways, shapes and forms is out to get her.

What has happened here? Sally, who isn’t a threat, knows that her ideas could possibly overthrow the government if put in the right hands. But Sally herself was simply practicing free speech. In her psychosis, however, Sally knows she isn’t a threat, but she thinks other people are out to get her, anyway. She believes this because she knows that the assessment of threat has been imperfect in the past. Now, Sally is fully paranoid.

Buried within Sally is the unconscious idea that her own thoughts may be used against a government and, explicit to her, is the belief that this government is now out to get her because of it. Sally has a false belief. No one is out to get her. Panic and fear arise in her, however, because she intensely believes she is being persecuted.

This is what I think of as the landscape of paranoia. Only time will tell if my understanding is correct.

UPDATE: Here’s an account of a psychiatrist who experienced paranoia, which bolsters my view. And this patient/doctor recovered!

Making An Idol Out Of Truth

I care about truth. That’s truth with a lower-case ‘t’. I care about it a lot, honestly, which is why I’m concerned that some people have begun to make an idol out of Truth (with a capital T).

During the linguistic turn in philosophy, we learned a lot can be gleaned from looking at how we use language. These days, it is common for folks to try to smack each other around in debate with Truth, while not particularly caring about truth.

I use ‘truth’ in the ordinary language sense here. Like Wittgenstein, I’m fond of ordinary language. And I use it in a pragmatic way; truth is something that happens to an idea.

I’ve been witnessing people bash each other over the head with Truth, making an idol of it and trying to score points with it. Truth is not for point-scoring. It’s a good in itself. Some, like Berit Brogaard, argue it’s the highest good.

I tend toward value pluralism, so I don’t know that truth is the highest good. But I do know it is a good and had intrinsic value, whatever its instrumental value may be.

When we make an idol out of Truth, we lose–even if it ends up we win the argument we are having.

Slow And Steady Wins The Race?

Back when I was a TA, I got really, really good at thinking on my feet. Super good.

Time has worn on and I find myself preferring slow deliberation these days. I don’t think this is a sign of lacking intelligence, either. I think of it as both gaining intelligence and wisdom. We tend to prize quick thinking. But quick thinking can get us in trouble. Reflexes vary, of course, and can be trained. But I think our society, which can tweet in an instant, has become more and more biased and less seeking of truth due to the reliance on quickness over slow deliberation.

Take, for example, a conversation I had prior to Christmas with an expert on AI. I’m still thinking about the ramifications of that discussion. I may have a few brief thoughts, but nothing well-formulated just yet. I will talk to people about it, think it over more, and so forth, before I come to a safe conclusion.

The theory is that reflexes, if not heavily trained, are ridden with emotion, bias and other things. The more time we have to mull something over, the more likely we are to weed out those things.

One problem is that, for many people, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to deliberate. I suggest: Take a walk. Cut down on your TV time. Heck, cut down on your social media time–to spend time reflecting. We may just become a better society because of it.

“The Thinker Who Believed in Doing”

Here’s a really good article on William James and pragmatism. An excerpt:

In a world of chance and incomplete information, James insisted that truth was elusive but action mandatory. The answer: Make a decision and see if it works. Try a belief and see if your life improves. Don’t depend on logic and reason alone, add in experience and results. Shun ideology and abstraction. Take a chance. “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”

I confess that I’ve become rather fond of pragmatism over the years.

On Citizenship: The Problem With Birth Tourism

You’ve probably heard about the growing trend in Russia (and other places) for pregnant mothers to give birth to their children in America. This is, of course, not a very new idea. Some see it as exploiting a loophole. These folks ask: what can be done?

Well, there’s several possibilities. Here’s a few:

  1. Do nothing. Let these families give birth to their babies and do as they wish. This could lead to many possibilities, including closer ties with other countries and the breakdown of America as a global empire.
  2. Track the families of the babies to ensure they are not threats or foreign agents.
  3. Change our citizenship requirements. This would mean changing the constitution.
  4. Extend citizenship over certain countries. This would possibly be a colonial move, but it could be framed in a more positive light.

There are different ways of forming citizenship requirements–and this is something I’ve thought quite a bit about. You see, I’ve done some work on Native American issues. I gave birth to a Native American child. She gets dual citizenship–in both the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the United States. This is because she meets the citizenship requirements of both governments. As for me, I get no benefits from Choctaw Nation. I will never be able to get Choctaw citizenship because Choctaw Nation uses “direct lineage” or “blood quantum” as the requirement for citizenship.

My daughter gets to be a citizen of the United States because, in 1924, the United States granted citizenship to all Native Americans.

This was an interesting move. Some Native people wanted to be U.S. citizens, but others did not. This unilateral move is what finally gave Native Americans the ability to move forward as full citizens of the U.S. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

Tribal nations are currently colonized by the United States. They are considered “domestic dependent nations.” As such, they have limited jurisdiction over their territories.

What does all this have to do with Russia? Well, if it turns out this is some ploy to defeat the United States, it’s clear that this will not work. The United States can unilaterally declare all Russians to be U.S. citizens. This would put Russia on par with tribal nations.

Philosophy Is Dead! Long Live Philosophy!

Stephen Hawking said at Google’s Zeitgeist conference that philosophy is dead. Hawking said that philosophers (who, ironically, developed science) haven’t kept up with recent developments in science.

But is this true?

There are certainly particular philosophers who haven’t kept up with science relevant to their area. However, there are top philosophers of physics who know about the work being done in experimental physics. To boot, when I took metaphysics, I learned about theories in physics.

What’s more, when I was a graduate student, there was a whole hot, new area called Experimental Philosophy, which includes both traditional philosophy and experimentation.

And I certainly got doses of science in my moral psychology courses, for example. There is tons of research in recent years drawing upon work in social psychology, cognitive psychology, situationism, and more. In fact, a few months ago, I spoke with a philosopher delving into the literature on situationism.

I think Hawking needs to reach out in order to gain an interdisciplinary approach–an approach I have always appreciated and undertook. Philosophy and science can interact well together. And, after all, philosophy gave birth to practically every area of study. So, let’s not throw it out just yet.

I Was A “Very Stable Genius.” Then I Developed Schizophrenia. Now, I’m An Unstable Genius.

Ask anyone who worked with me. I was 100% philosophy, 100% of the time. Effort and study creates genius. And I think I was one. A stable one, too.

I was in the middle of my graduate thesis when madness creeped up on me. It began slowly, with things I could handle, like derealization. Then, one day, I cracked. I was triggered by something in an e-mail to me. I responded by joking about it, but it really put unwanted thoughts in my head. I didn’t know how to handle unwanted thoughts, so I tried pushing them away. Little did I know that when you try to push unwanted thoughts away, they just become stronger. This quickly escalated into OCD with psychotic features–then schizophrenia.

I was full-blown mad. Again, ask anyone who was around me at the time. I was also a full-blown genius. The current going theory is that people who experience the kind of anxiety I experienced, while being top-performers, are the best of the best.

I don’t think I’ve lost any cognitive function, which sometimes goes along with schizophrenia. And I’ve been studying ever since I was diagnosed. As I said, effort and study makes genius. That, along with flexibility and imagination, gives you people like John Nash, an unstable genius.

I’ve seen memes recently mocking the president for calling himself a stable genius. Perhaps he is. I certainly haven’t mocked him for saying this.

But it’s important to understand a two things: (1) genius is about work. One doesn’t typically become a genius by not investing time into one’s area of expertise. (2) there is nothing wrong with being a little unstable. I have been known to become psychotic. So has John Nash. Each of us has accomplished things in life–and he is what many would think of as a true genius.

What many people are worried about is whether the president will do something rash in his alleged instability and, for example, bring us to war. He could. But he could also just be performing Madman Theory, which would not only scare some of us, but also our enemies. Either way, instability does not necessarily equal violence, so trying to guess the probability of the president pressing the button is currently, with the information I have, all for naught.

 

Identity And Your Career

I think one of the most detrimental things one can do is identify with their career. I find so many people who do identify with their career. When they lose a job, when they retire, they lose their sense of identity.

When one thinks in terms of oneself as how one sells one’s labor, one is really doing a disservice to oneself. It also makes one extremely vulnerable in that it makes one less flexible. Flexibility, as Jonathan Lear argues in Radical Hope, should be the virtue one aims for in our society. Flexibility gives one the ability to reach beyond one’s current or past way of life and imagine something new and different. It’s the key virtue that lends itself to creativity and imagination in forms of life.

Of course, there’s advantages for your employer for you to identify with your career. If you are so invested in your career that you wholly identify with it, you make a good cog in the working machine. The problem, for you, is: what if the machine stops working or changes direction? What if you have to change careers or forms of life for some reason? When that happens, as it has been known to do, you will suffer an identity crisis. Instead of being able to knuckle down and move on with a different form of life–reaching for different thick concepts–you will be stuck in your old way of thinking while the world moves on without you.

So, do not place your identity in your career.

Gut Feelings: Problems For AI May Not Be With The Brain

According to recent theories, the gut and the brain are constantly communicating. This communication is so important that certain functions attributed to the brain may indeed also depend on the gut.

Having solid gut health has become an important topic in many areas, including mental health.  And, indeed, gut health may help with higher order cognitive functions and more.

The problem with current theoretical understandings of AI, then, is that it doesn’t seem to take into account that the brain is fully embodied and connected with other organs, for which it depends, as well as the gathering information from the outside world.

A recent hypothesis I heard, for example, posited that if one could create a synthetic brain, one would have genuine AI.

I want to suggest that if we really want a genuine AI, we will have to go a few steps further and create a whole synthetic human body. We may not be able to get there just yet, but if we do, we will have truly artificial intelligence.

 

Re-Tracing The Trail Of Tears: My Undergraduate Thesis

I have thought about placing my undergraduate thesis online, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. As part of my research for my undergraduate thesis, I re-traced the Trail of Tears. I visited the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and then followed the trail to present-day Oklahoma, visiting the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

After visiting Oklahoma, my daughter, her father and I went to visit family in Texas. My daughter’s father took a bunch of pictures of the time we were traveling. The above is one that sums up how I felt being photographed.