Daily Archives: July 5, 2011

Sideband #4: Ignorant vs Stupid

One last very important distinction: there’s a big difference between being ignorant and being stupid.

To be ignorant is to not know something.

We are all ignorant. In fact, given how much there is to know, we’re all far more ignorant than not. Granted, some more than others, and if there is any crime, it is in remaining willfully ignorant in the face of knowledge.

That’s stupid.

Yet who among us can claim they’ve never eaten a stupid pill now and again? We all make the occasional mistake or bad choice. It’s those who seem to gulp down stupid pills by the handful that make me crazy.

A key difference is that ignorance is curable. Stupidity is a tougher disease.

Let me also be clear that I’m not talking about I.Q. or “book smarts.” Some of the stupidest people can also be Mensa members.  I’ll be  honest: I think I’m pretty book smart, and I supposedly have a very high I.Q.  But the course of my life shows me up as one of the stupider people I know. If you want to talk about bad choices and mistakes, well, I can tell you plenty.

Sideband #3: Good vs Like

While we’re on the topic of important distinctions, let’s also try to draw a line between the idea of liking something and the idea that something is good.

Very often people conflate the two. For example, that a “good” movie is a  movie they liked. In fact good and like are different measurements, and I wish more people understood the difference.

The idea of good speaks to the quality of something. A good piece of furniture is a quality piece of furniture. It is made well. Likewise, a good movie is a movie that is made well.

There are objective criteria you can use to determine whether a movie is a good movie or a bad movie. It depends a bit on exactly what you mean by good, so determining the goodness requires defining your terms. Are we talking just about the production values? Those are fairly easy to judge very much as we can easily judge the quality of a piece of furniture.

But if we’re talking about the quality of the script, editing, acting or camera work, it can be harder to evaluate objectively. There is a matter of choices made, and this must be considered. Generally, if the choices are understood, the quality can be judged in light of those choices.

The point is that there are objective criteria that can be applied, and most people familiar with the criteria will agree (more or less) on the judgement.

Whether you like something is purely a matter of taste. We sometimes use the phrase “guilty pleasures” to describe something we like, but which we know to be… well, not very good. (Sometimes that translates to “low brow,” but that’s a whole different discussion.)

As they say, “There’s no accounting for taste.”

Just don’t confuse what you like and what is good (quality).

Sideband #2: Truth and Facts

A bit of Haiku:

A Thing is rarely
The whole or the only Truth.
Most Things are that way.

It’s useful to break the connection between the idea of fact and the idea of truth.  A fact is a datum that stands on its own regardless of opinion, belief or perception. A truth does reflect the opinion, belief or perception of a person.

It is a fact that most pizzas are round; it is a truth (for me) that sausage pizza is the best pizza. Other people see a different truth (they’re wrong, of course, especially if their truth involves anchovies).

When it comes to the best pizza, truth is opinion; a matter of taste (literally in this case). But it’s not always so clear where facts leave off and truth becomes opinion. Consider the classic Left/Right truths about the role of government. Both sides marshal considerable fact to support their truth. In the end, it comes down to worldview.

Sometimes truth follows fact and changes as our knowledge of fact improves. For a long time, it was true that the sun (and everything else) went around the earth. That seemed to follow fact; anyone could see the sun rise in the morning, move across the sky and set in the evening. You could see it move while you were clearly standing still.

The actual fact of the matter turned out to be different.

It’s tempting to wish it always worked this way; that once we fully understood the fact, we would all share the same truth. Sometimes that’s the case, but in most of the interesting cases, truth has a lot to do with belief. Even when in full possession of fact, people can see the truth differently.

I think that’s an important aspect of reality. That no matter how well we know the facts, we can always still hold different truths, and these truths are often equally true.

Cogito Ergo Sum

In my first post I mentioned René Descartes and his seminal statement, Cogito ergo sum.” I think, therefore I am. Because this statement and the ideas that spring from it lie at the heart of my philosophy and interests, it is a fitting topic for my second post. I also mentioned beginnings; these beginning posts explore such core topics as form my core and inform my mind.

And mind is the topic at hand. “I think, therefore I am,” concerns one of the most central, most personal, most mysterious, most fantastic aspects of our existence. It concerns something each of us shares every waking moment, but which remains–thus far–completely unknown.

That every moment mystery is that we think and we experience. Each of us has a voice inside their head; an «I» that is us. It’s the driver of the car that says, “I’m hungry,” or “I’m going to the library.”

It’s the sound track running in your head right now as you read this. It’s the basis of your thoughts and experience.

We have no idea what it actually is. Continue reading

Sideband #1: Wow; the interweb is… #1


Sideband posts are miscellaneous thoughts that accompany the main thread of posts. Think of them as small paths that meander off the main road. Some branch off, go a short ways and die after a short while. Others are scenic trails that follow along the main road. Quotes is an example of the latter. It’s too early to run into one of the former, but I’ll point out the first one when it arrives.

Wow; the interweb is…

Wow;… posts are reflections on what the interweb is and does. It’s now easy–trivial even–to write information into the interweb.  It’s equally easy to search for information. The exciting part is that some of the information is reliable and based on reality and some of it is opinion and guesswork. I think it makes for interesting observations.

So that’s the deal; Sidebands can happen anytime!  (If you must, you can think of them as meditative, comparatively-infrequent, multi-giga-Tweets.)

Here’s one now:

So I’m researching the quote, “People get the government they deserve,” because I want to use the quote. It’s one of those quotes we all know and like to whip out when it proves our point.

According to the interweb it was said by: Alexis de Tocqueville, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Helen Zille. Also, President Allison Taylor quoted de Tocqueville. But also that no one said it, at least definitely not Alexis de Tocqueville. If the others said it, they were probably–like President Taylor–misquoting Tocqueville.

You have to poke around a bit to find a creditable article (well-written plus references!) that gives it up: Joseph de Maistre.

“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle merite.”
(“Every nation has the government it deserves.”)

So there it is: the good and the bad of the interweb, a microcosm keyed by quote. It’s a rich source of information; you just have to learn to separate the noise from the signal.