Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Digital Democracy

I have become a member of  If you don't know what it is, I would encourage you to go to their site and take a look.  In essence what the folks at Nextdoor have done is break up the U.S. (??, not sure if it is just the U.S.) into neighborhoods and if someone will take the initiative in a given neighborhood to get them to become members of Nextdoor, then they effectively have a forum for just themselves on any neighborhood issues or notices that they want.  Now if adjoining neighborhoods become organized, then when a notice is posted, it can go not only to your own neighborhood, but also all the adjoining neighborhoods.  When I say neighborhood, I mean a really small number of households.  My neighborhood has about 130 members signed up out of maybe 200 homes.  Including the adjoining neighborhoods (there are 7) we have about 2400 households.
This service has worked quite well.  When burglaries occur, or there is a pet lost, or someone just needs a recommendation for a plumber this is just the right spot to go. Very local and these are the people you meet on the street if you go on a stroll with your dog.

There have been some tense moments when some issues have come up.  For example, there has been an issue with homeless people in the area and there is a clear schism between those who think we should extend ourselves as a community for these individuals and those who want to rid our town of them and that they are too great a burden on our community.  Nevertheless, the Nextdoor forum has been a wonderful medium for an honest an frank discussion on not only this issue, but many other "issues" that the community is facing.

Recently the folks at Nextdoor added a new feature on the site wherein the County could broadcast via Nextdoor information that it believes to be of importance to the community.  The County can broadcast to all the neighborhoods in the community or to any subset of neighborhoods.  So, the County issued a post on the site to all members in all neighborhoods in the County stating that this capability will be used by the County.  There are certain restrictions on the County's use of the Nextdoor site.  First, the County cannot look or read the conversations that the neighborhoods are having on their sites, nor can they look at the profiles of the members.  Members may choose to reply to the County posting, in which case that reply will go to the full scope of the County posting (that is, if it was a countywide posting then the reply will be visible to everyone in the county).
This opened up an opportunity for people in the county to start any discussion they wanted on a matter of interest to their community.  There have been some constraint put on the free two way conversations, but the general idea of allowing the citizenry to organize their discussions on local issues in such a well broadcast media was quite refreshing.

I use the term "digital democracy".  I did a search on the term and found that it has been used before, but I am not sure yet if it was used with the same connotation.  There is another term
E-democracy that is also getting some use.

In either case, this has gotten me to think about our democracy.  In the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution), Article I deals with the right of assembly of the citizenry. We all know this since we were in elementary school.  One of the founding principals of this country is that the citizens can assemble to discuss and also protest (in a peaceful way) anything that they want.  They can also petition the government with their grievances.

From a practical point of view this is not quite as simple as it sounds.  In this busy hustle bustle world we live in it is difficult to contact and get others to participate in such activity.  But now, with a little help from the internet and our friends at Nextdoor, it is very easy for us disorganized and busy citizens to get together electronically to discuss and also protest (in a peaceful way, of course) anything on the local level that we want.  The age of digital democracy has arrived.

Please comment on your thoughts about this new and exciting way to improve the democratic process.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Joseph Priestley on experimental philosophy and empiricism

I am reposting here a very interesting article written by Peter Anstey, ARC Future Fellow, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Australia that appeared on the University of Otago (New Zealand) Early Modern Experimental Philosophy website on April 28, 2014, with permission:

Joseph Priestley Rembrandt Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Priestley
Rembrandt Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Priestley is one of the most celebrated chemists of all time because of his role in the discovery of oxygen. So highly was he regarded that in 1922 the American Chemical Society named their most prestigious medal ‘The Priestley Medal’.
Priestley was born in 1733 and died in 1804. Thus, he flourished in the latter decades of the era of early modern experimental philosophy and a survey of his writings reveals that he embraced experimental philosophy. Indeed, by the late eighteenth century the experimental approach to natural philosophy was virtually without a rival in Britain. When analysing his writings on natural philosophy there is no sense that he believed that experimental philosophy needed to be defended or justified at all. To be sure, one finds the usual rhetoric of experimental philosophy, such as his comment in hisExperiments and Observations relating to various Branches of Natural Philosophy (London, 1779) that:
Speculation without experiment has always been the bane of true philosophy. (Preface, vii)
Yet when one turns to his Heads of Lectures on a Course of Experimental Philosophy (London, 1794) the term ‘Experimental Philosophy’ in the title is entirely unselfconscious. He opens Lecture I with a statement of the aim of the discipline:
The object of experimental philosophy is the knowledge of nature in general, or more strictly, that of the properties of natural substances, and of the changes of those properties in different circumstances. This knowledge can only be attained by experiment, orobservation. (p. 1)
He goes on to mention one of the ‘rules of philosophizing’ in this discipline: ‘to admit no more causes than are necessary to account for the effects’ (p. 3). Of course, this is Newton’s first rule of philosophizing from the second edition of the Principia and it is hardly surprising that Priestley goes on to claim that given the ‘power of gravity’ ‘we are authorized to reject the Cartesian Vortices’ (ibid.).
One might, therefore, regard Priestley’s writings as not having anything to teach us about early modern experimental philosophy. And yet there is at least one point that is worth highlighting, for, Priestley was the second person to use the term ‘empiricism’ in the title of a book in English. The first was Francis Guybon in his An Essay concerning the Growth of Empiricism; or the Encouragement of Quacks, London, 1712 which was an attack on medical quacks.
Then in 1775 Priestley published a book entitled Philosophical Empiricism: containing Remarks on a Charge of Plagiarism respecting Dr H––. He had been attacked by the Irish physician Bryan Higgins who had accused him of plagiarism and Priestley defended himself, attacking many claims in Higgins’ lectures and concluding:
These and suchlike long-exploded, and crude notions (so many of which I believe were never thrown together into the same compass since the age of Aristotle or Cartesius) are delivered in a manner and phrase so quaint, and a tone so solemn and authoritative, as gives me an idea that I cannot express otherwise than by the term Philosophical Empiricism. (p. 59)
What is interesting here is that ‘empiricism’ is used as a pejorative and is loosely associated with Descartes! This all predates the Kantian Rationalism and Empiricism distinction –– the RED. It is even tempting to claim that it shows the inappropriateness of foisting the term ‘empiricism’ in its Kantian sense on eighteenth century thinkers when it already had strong currency in eighteenth-century English with an entirely different meaning.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Priestley Sunday -- Celebrating Joseph Priestley's 281st Birthday

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Further Thoughts on Touchstones of Time

Since posting Touchstones of Time I have thought of some further implications along the lines of that thread.  I want to elaborate upon one of those interesting aspects of the metaphor of holding hands with the generations before and after me that I had not written about in that original post.

First, if you have not read that post, I strongly recommend that you do so by clicking on the link above so that the post here might tie together better without having to repeat the gist of it.

I have four grandparents, and each of those grandparents have had four grandparents.  Now, assuming there was no intermarriage among them (I assume not), that means I have 16 great great grandparents.

Next, we cannot know how many grandchildren my grandchildren might have (nor how many grandchildren, for that matter), but the number could be larger or less than the number of my great great grandparents.

Consider for one moment, now, the ethnic, geographic, educational, and other diversities in these genealogically related individuals.  As far as I know, today, I cannot even fully describe that diversity without some real effort tracking down all the family histories (I'm not even sure that I could fully do that either), but I do know that I can include people from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Europe. I can also include Jews, Protestants, Catholics, agnostics, and atheists; and doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, scientists, saddle makers and bricklayers to mention a few. I know that if I were to look just a little outside this immediate genealogical chain to brothers and sisters there would also be physically and mentally challenged individuals, gays, and who knows what other diversity there that was, is, or will be found.

Now, this snapshot of this snippet of my family chain does not cover all of the diversity of mankind (not by a long shot).  In fact, it is only a very small part of the diversity of humanity, but it does illustrate that through time the diversity that one is tied to through their family genealogy keeps growing in ways that would astound our ancestors and possibly under impress our descendants.

I do understand that here in the United States we have celebrated and reveled in our diversity more than in most other parts of the world (though, unfortunately,  this is not universally true for all Americans).  In other parts of the world, diversity is not as prevalent as here -- yet.  But, one thing is certain, given the advances in industrial and technological development that we have experienced in the last 100 years, diversity will, no doubt, soon penetrate every corner of this planet.

We are all truly one family of man.   We should embrace this diversity and bask in the glory of it knowing we are all connected with each other. We are all part of it and benefit from it. Bigotry and prejudice have no place to exist anywhere anymore.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Differences between Actual Age and Perceived Age

My thoughts were still focused on my recent post on spanning time through the generations. I am fascinated with the vast amounts of time that can pass between generations that have actually known each other, if only briefly and superficially.  I then started thinking about the perception of time, and how it is so subjective. 

I know from my own personal experience that when I was young, I always had the perception that I was older than I actually was.  For example, when I was 9 years old I felt like I was 12.  I know this to be true because my older brother was three years older than me and I could never understand why I couldn't do what he was allowed to do, while I was not.  After all, I perceived myself to be as grown up as he was.  I think young people, in general perceive of themselves as more mature than their chronological or "actual" age.  
Now that I am considerably older, I perceive myself to be considerably younger than my chronological age.  Further, upon reflection, I think that I have felt this way for quite some time, and that I feel even more of a difference from my actual age than I have ever felt before.
Obviously,  since, as a youth, I perceived myself older and now I perceive myself younger, there had to be a point in time when my perceived age was about the same as my chronological age. I would guess that to be when I was about 30.
Today, I asked my younger son, who is 41, how old he perceived himself to be.  He said that he felt like he was in his younger 30's. Good for him.
The next question I had was whether there was any connection between perceived age and longevity.  In other words, do people who perceive themselves to be younger than they actually are, live any longer? I suppose we could also ask if people who live longer perceive themselves to be younger than those who die younger.

I did find some interesting research on these questions.  So, I present here highlights of what I found, so far, for your consideration. If you have any additional citations that are interesting I would be glad to include them.

First, we need to clarify an ambiguity in the use of the term "perceived" age.  We have to be very clear about who is the "perceiver".  I was originally thinking of self perception, and in saying that I was not limiting myself to self perception of physical appearance.  There is a subset of literature dealing with perception of physical appearance, whether by oneself or by others.  This has been primarily studied in cases trying to objectify the results of plastic surgery.  This is not what I was originally thinking about, but it did provide more food for thought.  If you are "as old as you feel", and if you feel how you do because you see yourself in the mirror, it could affect the perception of how old you perceive yourself to be.  I have to give this aspect of the perception question some more careful thought. In my case I was primarily thinking about how old I mentally felt, but I suppose that the physical and mental are more tied together than I had originally thought.

Next, I did find some literature about perception of age as a function of time (generational).  I would give this example to illustrate the point.  My father and mother "grew up" or "matured" at an earlier age than I did.  He was working full time as a youth and was considered by his social peers at that time as an adult at a much younger age than my social peers considered me as an adult.  As further demonstration of this point, my mother (as well as other young women of her age) was considered adult and ready for marriage at much younger age than women were during my generation.  My childrens' generation has pushed this perceived adulthood (marriage)  even further along.  Perhaps this explains why my son has a greater difference between his actual and perceived age, than I did at his age.

It appears that most of the funding for this research is based upon the need for marketing information.  When a company markets their product, do they market to an audience of a particular actual age range, or rather, to a group that perceives themselves to be within a particular age range.
I think, what the research is showing, anyway, is that different people of a particular age have quite different thoughts of their perceived age.  This is like the second derivative of the age question.
Can we quantify characteristics that makes one group have a greater difference between perceived and actual age compared to some other group?  Is it gender dependent?  How about income dependent?  Does health, diet, or fitness play a roll? Does family history (longevity) play a roll?  Divorce? Education? Intelligence?  Ethnicity? Nationality?

The Big Window in conjunction with BBC Audiences has found some interesting information: "...differences between peoples’ Perceived Age and their Actual Age...[As] the chart [below] shows... People typically feel slightly older than they are until they hit 30. After that they start to feel younger – and then increasingly so. By the time they reach their early 70s, consumers actually feel in their mid-to-late 50s...The study suggests that as people approach their mid-70s the gap between perceived age and actual age starts to lessen – possibly as physical and mental health-related problems emerge.

Certainly from a Business to Consumer marketing perspective we have lots to learn [about] “perceived age”. It’s a consumer mindset already apparent in local products such as Carlisle Living magazine whose primary target audience is predominantly female, 18-25 years of age whilst the actual “consumers” of the magazine are to be found in the 25-40 age groups – although still largely female. Similar examples can also be witnessed with the demand for tickets across a wide demographic in Carlisle for Radio 1’s Big Weekend, the increase in the popularity of Zumba classes for the 25 -40 age groups , video-gaming and the rise of technologies originally targeting a younger consumer for instance Wii; and of course certain social networking sites such Facebook, Twitter etc. originally designed for the teens and now adopted across a much older age profile."

If you know of any other interesting research or comments on this issue please comment below.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Touchstones of Time (1790-2172) and Beyond

I am about to celebrate my 70th birthday in a few weeks.  I don't usually feel that I am that old (see my other post on this point).  I still have all my faculties and I am still fairly well put together physically (well, I have most of my faculties, and most of my physical parts). And I can still do most things with agility.  Not to say that I haven't had a few bumps in my life along the way -- I have.  But, there are those mornings lately when I wake up, and it's not that I am aching or anything, but I am just more aware of the fact that a great deal of time has passed since I was a youth. A great number of world events have occurred during my lifetime -- 'out there', and also in my more immediate family world around me -- 'down here'.  And technology has changed, oh so much, during my watch here on earth. Just reading this blog I hope you can see the huge changes.

But, the most striking image that I have come up with to put this passing of my life through time into perspective is this one:
I imagine for a moment that, on the one hand, I am sitting with my grandfather when I was a little boy and he is holding my hand, and he, in turn, is holding in his other hand the ghost of his grandfather when he (my grandfather) was a young boy.  And I also imagine that, on the other hand, I am holding the hand of my grandson, and he is holding in his other hand his yet to be born grandson at some time in the distant future.

Let's just go through that again from a different perspective.

My grandfather was born in 1862, and died when I was 7 years old in 1951.
My grandson was born in 2009, and, with any luck, will live as long as my grandfather did, or until about the year 2098.
Now, I don't know about my grandfather's father, and I know even less about my grandfather's grandfather. But, I have to guess that if he lived long enough that my grandfather's grandfather was in his 60s or older when his grandson (my grandfather) was young.  That would put my grandfather's grandfather's birth sometime before the end of the 18th century, say around 1790.
Similarly, if my grandson marries at about age 30 and his child marries around the same age, then my grandson's grandson will be born about the year 2072, and may just live until he is about 100 (assuming that life expectancies continue to rise) and be alive in the year 2172.

So, here is the picture of the imaginary scene I have created so far: On my left my grandfather's grandfather (1790?-1870?) is holding my grandfather's (1862-1951) hand. He, in turn is holding my hand (1944 - 2020?). Then, I, in turn, with my other hand am holding my grandson's (2009-2098?) hand; who, in turn, with his other hand, is holding his grandson's (2071?-2172?) hand.

I have described five people holding hands, the oldest born around 1790, with three people in between, and then the youngest living until about the year 2172.  The span of time is approaching almost 400 years.  The changes in the world during that time are almost unimaginable, and yet, there are only three people between my grandfather's grandfather and my grandson's grandson, who, in all likelihood, will have, in reality, really held each other's hands.  And if not theses five individuals, then five individuals in some other family.  It is awesome to think in those terms. It is like spanning the time since Columbus discovered the New World (almost) being described in the lifetimes of five individuals whom have all touched each other personally.

I can't look back and see a picture of my grandfather's grandfather when he was young (photography didn't exist yet). And I can't see a picture of my grandson's grandson (he doesn't exist yet). But I can give my grandson a picture of my grandfather for him to pass on to his grandson. And, I can imagine grandson's and grandfathers reaching forward and backward in time forming a chain from the first man of humanity onward.  Michelangelo even went one step further in his painting at the Sistine Chapel when he showed the hand of Adam touching the hand of God.

I don't want to appear to be a male chauvinist. I could have used grandmother's for the example, but since I have only one grandson, and he is a son, I decided to use the men of the family.  Besides, while I do have pictures of one of my grandmothers, I have pictures of both of my grandfathers.

Come to think of it, I am going to give my grandson pictures of all of them along with these comments. Maybe, when he is old enough it will be interesting enough for him to give it a moment of reflection, and the impetus to pass along the pictures to his grandchildren.

"The farther you can look back, the farther forward you are most likely to see."   --Winston Churchill

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Frigate USS Constitution "Old Ironsides"

Sketch, U S Constitution "Old Ironsides" Vallejo CA, 1933 by E A Burbank
From the Collection of the USS Constitution Museum, Boston, with permission

I suppose that my fascination with Tall Ships began when we had the opportunity to see OP SAIL '76 in New York Harbor on July 4, 1976 on the Bicentennial of our nation's birth.  We had an impressive view of the Hudson River high atop a 30 story building above the Palisades on the New Jersey side of the river about a mile below the George Washington Bridge.  Given this blog's home page banner image of the Tall Ships that I took just off the coast of Tofino B.C. , Canada, I couldn't resist posting an entry on the USS Constitution, the grandmother of all the Tall Ships. 

She is the oldest commissioned military vessel in the world still floating. She was built in 1797 in Boston and is now permanently located in Boston Harbor and is used primarily as part of the USS Constitution Museum.  She has had a long and glorious history which I am sure you can read all about on many sites on the Internet.

My fascination with her started when I had the opportunity to purchase a fully rigged model. I couldn't get over how detailed the rigging was and how many thousands of hours it took someone to build it. I constructed a beautiful display case of mahogany and glass worthy enough to display her. She is 38" long from stem to stern and 27" high.

Then, by some luck I stumbled onto a genuine US Constitution relic that was made from the timbers and metal removed from the ship during its reconstruction during the 1920s. On the box lid there is a large bronze medal showing the US Constitution under sail with the inscription "OLD IRONSIDES Launched 1797 1804 Tripoli 1812 Guerriere Java 1815 Cyane Levant U.S. Frigate Constitution". 

Relic wood box 7.25" x 4" x 2.5" , from my personal collection. 
Attached to front of box is bronze plaque with the inscription "This Material Was Taken From The Original Hull Of The U.S. Frigate Constitution Keel Laid 1794 Rebuilding 1927".

Subsequently, I found a lithograph of the ship at the Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, Vallejo, CA dated 1855. Unfortunately, it was not of Old Ironsides, but rather of the frigate Independence which was built a few years after Constitution.

As best as I can tell, Constitution never made it to San Francisco Bay during her active career.  She did, however, visit the Bay during her so-called “National Cruise,” or "Three Coast Tour" in the 1930s.  She was there 24 March to 12 April 1933 and again from  31 August to 15 September 1933.  Thousands of visitors walked her deck during that period.  The USS Constitution Museum recently acquired a pencil drawing of the ship by E.A. Burbank showing her alongside the pier at Vallejo, CA in April 1933 (see the image at the top) it gives you a good idea of what the ship looked like when she was there. 

I found an interesting CDV of the USS Constitution from 1861 while she was located in Newport, RI.  It appears that the rigging has changed considerably. 
USS Constitution anchored off Goat Island, Newport, RI, c. 1861

This is one of the earliest known photographs of her that exists.