Friday, November 20, 2009

The Duty of Babies

     Before we speak in words, do we think in words? Do we know what words are? What are babies responsible for doing? All of these questions are truly unknowable, except for the last one. This final question is a matter of opinion, of your philosophy on raising children.

     Are babies responsible for doing anything? I believe they are, but it is not anything that they do consciously.

     What you learn and experience as an infant affects all that you perceive in the world. Increasingly, research discovers that babies are much more intelligent than we ever perceived them to be. Almost five years ago, it was revealed that babies can recognize words out of context at as early as 9 months (Reviewed by Dr. Robert Jasmer, UCSF). At as young as 12 months, a year old, babies can start recognizing the association between words and objects and between requests and actions. The interesting thing is that babies do this of their own accord. Nobody is training them; nobody is forcing them; they are just learning. Interestingly enough, learning by observation is what babies are responsible for.

(NOTE: There is no scientific evidence from what I am about to say. Some may say that it weakens my argument, but I disagree. People have thought about this for ages, and theories abound, but this is my philosophy on the duty of small children, and it is what I believe should be encouraged by parents. I doubt that many people would oppose what I am saying.)

     When the first child with a larger brain than its parents’ began to walk upright, what was going in its head? Small children are inquiring (this is evidenced in everyday life) and are always seeking greater understanding. Why this? What is that? What happens if I touch this, or taste that? Babies may not understand the words, but the curious nature is there.

     Babies are the most innocent thinkers, and also the most limitless in their curiosity. When you don’t understand anything, you question everything. What does a baby, fresh from opening its eyes for the first time, understand about electricity, and how it powers a television? What does a baby, upon first seeing a giraffe, understand about the predator-prey relationship that has caused a giraffe to grow such a large neck? The answer is nothing. They can’t understand, because they have not been learned it yet.

     Every child, upon first encountering a new object or phenomenon, observes and rationalizes. As our knowledge increases through observation, our rationalizations grow more accurate and we learn. When a baby observes a computer in a room, and then is driven to day-care, there is no connection between the power that is coursing through the power lines seen from the car and that which powers the computer. When a child learns that there is electricity in the cords above the road, and that computers are powered by electricity, a connection is made, the unknowns in the universe are reduced, and rationalizations to understand the world are made. The duty of babies is to observe and rationalize and learn. Are early ideas incorrect? Almost exclusively, yes. This does not matter, though; we are learning how to learn, and are learning how to observe the greater world. Every experience allows us to grow and mature and better rationalize the world we have observed.

     Babies are philosophers. They are absolutely credulous, and unbound by general constraints of what we usually consider to be reality. In a baby’s world, anything is possible, and everything is probable, if it can be observed. One could easily draw the conclusion that little people were running around in the box that we call a “television” if one only observed a single show. What would happen if another show came on? One could also draw the conclusion that all “water” is clear and colourless and tasteless if one only observed water from the tap, the bathtub spigot, and the hand-washing sink. With its deep blue/green deep and frothy white surface that tastes salty, what would the sea be observed as?

     Parents have the responsibility to encourage a living environment that permits free learning (within reasonable limits of course). It is by experience that we learn to not touch a hot stove or that slamming a finger in a door will hurt. It is by experience that we learn that cake is good, but the candle is hot. It is by experience that we learn. Let the kid learn for himself or herself.

     Babies are responsible for observing. By observing, rationalization naturally follows. By rationalizing, babies learn about the world, and how it works. The first years are where we learn how to learn, and that is the responsibility of babies.

EDIT1, Nov 19, 2009. 8AM: Today is the 20th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child. One of the basic tenets (Article 12) of this statement is an ackowledgment that, "States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child." Every child has the ability. Let us allow them to learn.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Everything in Moderation, Including Moderation - Wise Words

     The Buddha once said, “Moderation in everything, including moderation itself.” I personally view this as a great philosophical quote, and use this as a guiding principle in my life, to the best of my ability.

     Why is this moderation a good idea in principle? What are the limitations of this entire statement? Are there really any limitations on this as a creed?

     To begin with the validity of this principle, I argue that it is an excellent idea. It is my belief and observation that extremism is the cause of much of the discord and strife in the world.
     Putting this on a micro scale, is it the things that people are willing to “agree to disagree” on or the polarizing issues that end friendships? Of course, it is the extreme latter that dissolves amicable relations. On a personal note, it is my extremely outgoing (extroverted) nature that puts people off; I often have trouble communicating with extremely introverted individuals, because we are just so different that we cannot communicate. As extremism is degrading in inter-personal relations, so too does degrade foreign relations.
     Typically, when two nations come to a negotiating table, they have set demands that they claim they will not yield on. After long days, the trend is towards one of two outcomes; either they both moderate and walk away on better terms, or they both become hostilely extremist and lose ground. Simply in principle, moderation is a good idea. The true wisdom of the statement comes in the second part of the statement.

    “Moderation in everything, including moderation itself.” If we accept the entire statement in principle, there is an inherent limit placed on the statement. The second clause basically nullifies the statement, “Moderation in everything,” as there are obviously exceptions because of the statement “including moderation itself.” Translated: moderation is the overriding principle, but you can be moderately extreme, determined when and where you feel it is right or needed.
    Personally, I find that this second clause is needed. I am wary of absolute statements, and feel that there is never any singular correct answer. To quote the wise Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars Episode III, “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” Of course, this, by nature, is a contradictory statement, as he is a Jedi (or is he? By his logic, he is a Sith). The way I interpret his statement is as follows: Absolutes are a thing to be avoided, because they are rarely true, and are far more than true very damaging. The limitation placed on, “Moderation in everything,” is needed and good in my mind.

    The inverse of this is (ironically) an absolute statement that I agree with (mostly). By the limitations being placed on itself by the second clause, there are no limitations. You see, this idea of “everything, but not,” has no ability to be disproven. The freedom of this statement means that moderation is allowed to be a guiding principle, but exceptions are always present. The previous sentence is an apparent absolute, but, using the “everything, but not,” logic it is not an absolute; generally there is a situation where there are two options or more, but sometimes there are situations where there is no exception, and the statement is nullified. Hence, the logic is proven again.
     As a creed, it makes sense to embrace such an open statement. By freeing yourself from an absolute, you open yourself up to possibilities and interpretations (by the very definition of an absolute). Acknowledging that there are limitations on everything, usually, means that generally absolutes are incorrect, and opens the mind to conceive of other possibilities. Exclusivity of thought is not something I agree with at all, and is to be avoided (in my mind). This is one of a few absolutes that I embrace, keeping with the idea of moderation, with exceptions.

     In short, the point is that moderation is everything, usually. Moderation in everything can have qualifiers, and does when you acknowledge the second clause. By these qualifiers, you permit other possibilities and allow an openness of mind that avoids absolutism of thought and of actions.

    I hope you found this article moderately enjoyable, and have a very nice (exception to the rule) day.

A Different Philosophy - Teenager Style

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;   
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;   
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;   
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,   
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,   
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,   
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

Who am I? What makes me think that I have thoughts that are worthy of a blog? What makes me worthy of being called a philosopher? What gives me the right to philosophize? After all, I am nothing but a high school student, albeit a good one.

WHEN I read the wise philosopher;
When the reasons, the arguments, were laid in front of me;
When I was explained the reasons and purposes, to grow, learn, and appreciate them;
When I, sitting, heard the philosopher, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-hall,
How soon, unaccountable, I became curious and thought;
Till rising and walking out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the dark and un-lit library, and from time to time,
Look’d up at all the wisdom surrounding me.

Plato and Socrates were teenagers once as well. I am not saying that I am as great a thinker as they (despite claims by Facebook quizzes), but everybody has wisdom inside them. Every day we rationalize our world, and try to understand it. We all are philosophers, and each focus on what is most important to them. There is now a venue for my philosophy; why should I not write what I think of the world?

No idea is truly unique. As the William Ralph Inge said, “Originality is undetected plagiarism.” I’d like to disagree, but his argument is sound, especially when coupled with Benjamin Franklin’s, "Originality is the art of concealing your sources.” Everybody builds their ideas off the basis of others. My ideas and beliefs are not unique, nor are they necessarily profound. There is one thing that nobody else can claim the opposite of, though. They are mine. Not solely, in many cases, but they are what I believe. In an increasingly narcissistic world, that is a valid argument.

If you want to hear what an American teenager has to say, you are welcome to hear it. Perhaps I'll end up at the University of Chicago for philosophy, and you can say that you read me when I was in high school. Probably not, though. If you do not want to hear what I have to say, nobody is forcing you.

Welcome all, and have a nice day.