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Knight of Honor

Registered: 11-2005
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A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


So I'm reading "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan right now. (Excellent ideas, but he's rather redundant in this particular book.) In it, Sagan talks a lot about how un-critical most people are, and how they don't apply the basic tenets of skepticism to new things that they hear. This, he claims, is at the root of most tales about ghosts, telepathy, psychics, faith healings, UFO reports, visions of the Virgin Mary on a breakfast muffin, etc. The book is all about showing how there are more mundane explainations for these things.

One of the things he said in passing, though, gave me pause. He commented that one of the things that makes true skepticism hard to come by -- and thus, one of the things that allows the above pseudosciences to prosper -- is that the environment that people grow up in is so open about such ideas. He mentions specifically all the fantasy (and presumably scifi) books, movies and TV shows that are out there now. After all, if people grow up reading mostly-realistic stories about magic and communicating spirits and hidden government plots, then when they see or feel something truly ODD, isn't it understandable that they believe that what's happening is something like what they've read about or seen on TV?

So anyhow, here's my question: are we, as authors, aware of the social impact that we may be having when we write realistic fantasy or scifi? Do we have any responsibility to remind our readers that what we are writing is not REAL? Or should we just accept that, like all fiction, scifi and fantasy require that good ole "suspension of disbelief", and that every reader should know that? Is there any way to encourage readers to have a good time in our made-up worlds and to accept what is in them at face value, while at the same time reminding them that in the real world, some skepticism is a good and necessary thing?

Anyhow, it was just a troublesome moment for me, since it really set the two sides of me (dreamer and rational scientist) at war with each other. The dreamer in me loves stories about magic and telepaths and aliens visiting today's Earth and FTL travel. But the scientist in me knows that none of these things are likely to be real. Which side should I think with when I'm writing? Am I really okay with the idea of leading another generation astray -- teaching them by demonstration that it's better to dream than to analysize? And yet, if I stick to pure scientific realities, won't I be teaching them that it's bad to dream of new things, as well?

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Lady of the Land

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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


I believe you touched on the basic difference between a text book and a fiction tale. emoticon

I very much like Sagan and believe he did a lot to help to educate people - I own some of his books and cherish his vision. I can see where he comes from when he blames fantasy and movies and a general culture of blatant entertainment for "dumbing down the masses". And he does have a point.

Yet, just as you do, I think we shouldn't give up on our dreams. (For example, I dreamed of a unified Germany long before the wall came down, and people kept telling me that was impossible. Granted, that's not hard science.) We need dreams to grow, and often people need to dream the impossible in order to find new technology - to make science grow, even.

I often feel torn between science and "what else might be out there". I'm experiencing "weird" things on a regular basis right now in my family therapy training, and that does make me think hard about what else might happen in this world that we simply can't measure yet.

I believe we have a responsibility to write stories that entertain on a certain level, please the reader and maybe even teach a bit. Intelligent stories can do that, even if they contain magic. We could even put a disclaimer in the forword. Hehe.

And quite honestly, do you think the "dumbed-down" part of our society really reads a lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction? I'd think they would stick with Fox News, conspiracy theories, romance novels (please excuse me, all romance writers) and probably - erm - porn.

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Squire

Registered: 09-2003
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


I think that if a child has not been taught the difference between reality and fiction before they even learn to read then first of all you should shoot the parents, and second of all... no, just shoot the parents, that about covers it emoticon

There is no way that it should ever be the writer's responsibility to say "hey kids, this is fiction". If a child doesn't know that before picking the book up, all hope is lost and anything you say will fall on deaf ears.



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10/20/2007, 8:47 am Link to this post Email David Meadows   PM David Meadows
 
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Knight of Honor

Registered: 11-2005
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

David Meadows wrote:
There is no way that it should ever be the writer's responsibility to say "hey kids, this is fiction". If a child doesn't know that before picking the book up, all hope is lost and anything you say will fall on deaf ears.



Oh, absolutely. Don't get me wrong -- books don't do the job alone. (And Sagan didn't think so either -- remember, he's published at least on fiction book that I know of.) But books are part of an environment that encourages people to believe blindly in "neat things" just because they are told about them, even if there is no evidence.

Notice, too, that I specified "realistic" fantasy and scifi. Frankly, I'm not too worried about confusing people with Tolkien-type fantasy or Star-Wars-type scifi. Those are so far away from the everyday that most sane people aren't going to confuse the magic or pseudoscience in them for either current reality or physically-possible future technology. But what about those books set on Earth within, say, a few hundred years (plus or minus) of today?

An example: I have a book about a hidden society of telepaths on Earth. They live among us now. We're just not aware they're there because they're living in secluded locations and have little contact with the rest of the world. This scenario is vaguely plausible. It's also completely, 100%, made up by Reythia The Dreamer. But now imagine that someday (haha!) I actually finish the book and get it published. Some teenager whose parents and teachers have not instilled a proper amount of skeptical thinking and logic into him meets a friend who claims to be able to read minds. Is the teenager more or less likely to uncritically accept the friend's telepathic ability now that he's read my book? Have I unintentionally opened his mind up to a whole line of confusions and hoaxes?

For the record, I don't plan on stopping my writing just out of these fears. But I think it's important to realize that we writers, as a group, have a big impact on the gullibility of others. For example, before there was scifi about "little green men", there were no UFO sightings reported. Now there are many. Did the number of true UFOs acutally change, or was it just that after hearing about aliens and UFOs, when people saw unusual lights in the sky, they immediately associated the lights with the aliens?

The human mind is set up to encourage a certain conformity of thought; we try to shelve our new experiences in the proper category, like library books, where similar experiences and thoughts are stored next to other. I think that by writing about fantasy and scifi, and especially the more realistic, close-to-modern-day versions of those genres, we are opening up new bookshelves in people's minds. That's not a bad thing! But I just think we should be aware that we're also opening up a whole new area of mis-shelving.

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NaNo Winner

Registered: 08-2005
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


I think it's more likely that people are going to believe these things because of who they are than that they've read a lot of David Eddings and Dan Brown. Personally, I've read that stuff and I still have an extremely skeptical nature. You can get someone who doesn't read those books or watch those shows and you'll still find them believing anything that's said. More because of who they are or because they want to believe something than because of environment. But that's a much bigger argument: External versus internal influences. I'm a firm believer that a person provides his own perspective and that external influences only help to shape it, rather than forming it.

Too many words. Sorry. No, we don't have a moral responsibility to help people see reality. Like Meadows said, that's their parents' responsibility. Or their teachers. Or their priests. Or someone else. Not the name on the top of the book they buy.

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Grand Master

Registered: 01-2005
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


A writer has a moral responsibility to write.

I don't see why we have to say "this is fiction, don't try this at home".

And I don't think books are the ones who are to blame anyway. If there was blame to be laid at any feet besides the parents...it would be TV and Movies. Those are two mediums in which actual thought is not necessary and which can wash over the unprepared consumer like fire.

I think most reading people are pretty safe from "corruption", it is the non-reading public that I think have these flights of fancy and should have been taught better in their youth.

(I don't really blame TV or movies, I just think that they have more influence on the naive, than books.)

We are not here to coddle the socially and intellectually inept. :P

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Knight of Honor

Registered: 11-2005
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

Loud G wrote:
And I don't think books are the ones who are to blame anyway. If there was blame to be laid at any feet besides the parents...it would be TV and Movies. Those are two mediums in which actual thought is not necessary and which can wash over the unprepared consumer like fire.

We are not here to coddle the socially and intellectually inept. :P



Trouble is, many of the people who are getting bamboozled by all this are NOT intellectually inept. Like you guys have said, if it was just the idiots, well, who cares. But I know of at least two PhD-carrying engineers who seriously believe in ghosts. There are psychologists (that's the PhD-trained variety, right?) who believe that their patients have honestly been abducted by aliens. Writers on this board and numerous others I know believe that various forms of faith healing are possible. And I can't count the times my two twin sister have been seriously asked if they have ESP with each other.

It's NOT just the crack-pots. It's real, good, intellegent people. Their only possible flaw is that they are perhaps less skeptical than most other people on one specific issue. And really, we're all prone to a lack of skepticism on some things. That's part of being human: dreaming.

Unfortunately, I also tend to believe that part of being human is THINKING. And I don't think that most fantasy books encourage that (scifi is often better about it, though). Is there anything we can do to encourage both dreaming and thinking?

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Grand Master

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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


Unfortunately a PHD only means that they spent a lot of money and know how to pass college courses. THat doesn't necessarily mean they know how to think for themselves. And as for psycho-logists. I have found that a surprising number of them as as bad (or worse ) than their patients. (I've heard of many people getting into psychology because they or their family have psychological problems)

Education does not instill skepticism. I have not seen education teach people to think for themselves. And skepticism is not always a good thing. There is a such thing as too much skepticism, people who won't believe in anything unless there is direct physical proof stuck under their noses.

People should be skeptical enough to call something into question first before accepting it. Not just accept everything readily, and not just dismiss everything readily. One is gullible, the other is hard headed. I think the problem is that education does not counteract gullibility. Life is supposed to do that, before the person gets old enough to vote, but sadly some people escape it emoticon

I think fantasy can be just as much a thinking genre and scifi. In fact, I have never seen that scifi has been THAT big on thinking. It more dream oriented than Jane Austen's poor girls marrying up in society.

But I definitely agree that thinking and dreaming should come together in fiction of all kinds.

I have personally had many experiences that lead me to believe in things (no, not ghosts or aliens) that "skeptics" find ridiculous. I am an educated man, but my scientific and engineering backgrounds don't prohibit me from belief, rather they tend to encourage it.

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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

But I know of at least two PhD-carrying engineers who seriously believe in ghosts.



So? There is no scientific proof that they do or don't exist.

That's like saying "I know two phd carrying engineers who believe in God."

I like to go to tarot readers. I wont say I do or don't believe in it - I am undecided. However, some of the things predictably have come true. Could be a coincidence. I went to one woman who was rubbish - she didn't have a clue. I could have guessed more than she got right. Reading fantasy doesn't mean I have to believe her. I choose not to.

I heard a question on QI recently about a famous scientist (physicist?) can't remember the name. He kept a horseshoe on his wall. When asked why, he said "I know it's superstitious nonsense. But as I understand it, it brings you luck whether you believe in it or not."

I'm not explaining myself very well. I am happy with people believing in these things.



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Knight of Honor

Registered: 11-2005
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

Blitzen wrote:
So? There is no scientific proof that they do or don't exist.
That's like saying "I know two phd carrying engineers who believe in God."



You're right, of course. There's no evidence that such things do OR do not happen. But... well, I'm also doing a bad job of explaining this, so I'm going to cheat and quote. This is the from the tenth chapter of the book that started this thread, "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. It's long, so I'm going to shorten it to its essentials, but you're welcome to read the whole thing at the library.

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage." ...
"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old bicycle -- but no dragon.
"Where's the dragon?" you ask.
"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.
"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."
Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."
You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
"Good idea, except that she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."
And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.
Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. ... What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absense of evidence, on my say-so.
...
Imagine that, despite none of the tests being sucessful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge, you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it's unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative -- merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of "not proved".
...
Now another scenario: ... Some dragon-size footprints in the floor are now reported. But they're never made when a skeptic is looking. ... On closer examination, it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon's fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers... Such "evidence" ... is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.


He goes on throughout the book to show that, as far as the evidence in 1995 (when the book was published) suggests, things like UFO or ghost sightings, or telepathy, or faith healing, or tarot cards, or --yes-- God, are in the same boat as his invisible dragon. We've no proof that they exist, but we have none that they don't either. (It's a pretty good book if you want to rent it from the library. Though he does get a bit redundant in a few parts.)

His point (and mine, really) is that you should put the same amount of belief in such things (until further evidence is provided) as you would put in someone who said he had an invisible dragon in his garage.

If you don't agree, then ask yourself: Why do you think there is a greater likelihood of, say, spirits coming back from the dead in seances, than you do in the hypothetical dragon?

And with this, I'm done arguing. I really didn't mean to start a big debate with this topic!

Last edited by Reythia, 10/29/2007, 5:14 am


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Grand Master

Registered: 01-2005
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


Who's arguing? emoticon

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Lady of the Land

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I'm just mentioning this for food of thought, since the discussion has turned to the "supernatural" and things science has a hard time to measure, explain and predict.

In the last few months I have been experiencing things that seem ... weird. Yes, I'm aware of the human tendency to mix up cause and effect, and to find a cause in many simple coincidences (I'm reading Watzlawik and others on the perception of "reality") yet the things that happen are so strange that believe I'm not just making them up.

Things that happen are me using the exact words of a husband I had never seen, to the astonishment of his wife, or being gripped by an unexplicable sadness when looking at someone representing the father of a person I was standing in for. I had never met those people, nor did I even know their names.

From a scientific standpoint - so I have been told - it cannot happen. "Realistically", I can't know what took place in families I've never seen, yet I "receive" the emotions very clearly. Working with that gets results, too, strange enough.

Those in the profession talk of the "morphogenetic field" or "energy fields", but to me those are empty labels trying to hide the fact that nobody knows yet how it works. I keep thinking that eventually we may be able to measure what happens, but ... too many scientists just say what I and others exerience is a scam, pure imagination or just plain nonsense. Prejudice goes both ways.

 emoticon

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Knight of Honor

Registered: 11-2005
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

Firlefanz wrote:
I keep thinking that eventually we may be able to measure what happens, but ... too many scientists just say what I and others exerience is a scam, pure imagination or just plain nonsense. Prejudice goes both ways.



You're right, Firle. Some scientists have made up their minds and aren't about to change them. But many others just haven't seen any repeatable proof, and base their hypothesis on that. If you want to provide some proof, then do something like this:

1.) Record everything you say or do with the family that these strange events are happening with. But note that it's important to record EVERYTHING, not only the strange events. After all, it wouldn't be odd to feel the same as any random other person sometimes -- it's just odd if it happens all the time. Write down any of your strong feelings and whether you believe there is any correlation with other people's emotions at that time. Also, you'll have to demonstrate that those feelings didn't arise from other, more direct sources. For example, it's possible that you were "gripped by an unexplicable sadness" because when you looked at a representation of someone, that someone's feelings somehow leaked through to you. OR it's possible that the cause of those feelings came from your understanding of and sympathy with the situation (ie: maybe it was a friend's father who died, and you feel sad for the friend's loss). OR maybe it's something totally separate from the issue and subconscious (ie: there was a smell in the area that reminded you of your gramma, who died last year, and that made you sad even though you couldn't determine a logical reason for it). Again, you need to show that the odd things you feel happen repeatedly and with good reason.

2.) Then, after you've proven that there's something odd going on between you and this particular family, you need to determine if it happens with others -- particularly those you don't know. This is a sort of placebo test. If you do not observe another, similar family, can you still sense the same odd things as you did with your friend's? What if you observe them for a while, but without actually talking to them? What if you go up and meet them and get to know them casually? What if the family is that of another close friend's? If you put each of those families in similar role-playing situations, do you sense the emotions stronger in one than another? Are there some in which you sense nothing at all?

For the record, there are EXCELLENT scientifically-demonstrated examples of one person reporting feeling another's pain (or joy, or whatever), even though that person isn't in the room. Have you ever cried during a movie? Even KNOWING that it wasn't real? I have! That's an obvious example of a false sense of empathy -- clearly I am NOT sensing what the character is really feeling, since that character is really only an actor, who almost certainly wasn't actually feeling what the character was, and in any case, the film was made months or years before. The human mind IS capable of confusing us -- lying to us -- and making us feel things that aren't rational. Also, emotions are very "contagious", in a sense. Have you ever been in a great mood, and then have a friend of yours tell you that she was worried because her grandpa was in the hospital or something? Does your good mood evaporate? Why? Because you're empathizing with your friend, of course. That's nothing psychic, though. It's just a demonstration of observational skills and human pack mentality.

Firle, I don't know what you're feeling. Maybe you are somehow channeling another person's feelings and words. I'm willing to accept that it's possible. But I'm also aware of how easy it is for the mind to confuse us. I think that a lot of other scientists feel the same way: we'd love to discover that such things are possible, but until we see documented, repeated proof, we cannot in good conscience say more than, "Gee, something funky is going on."

If someone wants to change the attitude of scientists, then all the need to do is document the proof and be able to repeat it in a controlled environment. Do so and you'll have conversions by the thousands.

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Lady of the Land

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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


Thanks, Reythia.

I'd rather not go into detail right now, let me just say I never knew either person involved, and still don't know who they are. The only thing I knew was: I was a person, and there was a problem, and a goal. The problem turned out to be the father, and that's when I felt the sadness.

It is possible that something in my own history bubbled up. Still, my teacher said that what I felt there was in fact what had happened in her therapy session with the client (she was making us rework that session without telling us any details).

My teacher is actually working on a project to find out whether these reactions like the one I had can be reproduced with different "representators". She's also trying to find out how little detail is sufficient.

I do hope she's doing it according to a certain scientific standard, because that would be very interesting.

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Knight of Honor

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I hope she is too, Firle. And you're right -- it could be very interesting indeed!

You might be particularly interested in that Sagan book, if you're taking a class on this sort of thing. It's a thought-provoking read. Also, I think it might give you insight into the "other side" of discussions on the concepts your teacher is presenting. Which I think is useful, since it's REALLY hard to explain your side of things to people if you don't understand where they're coming from, you know?

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Heh.

My family are all scientists. Mother, father, sister, they all have degrees. My grandparents were teachers ... My brother deviated, and I moved into languages and back to teaching for a bit, but I've always enjoyed science.

That makes it hard to walk the border between science and "paranormal" or "supernatural". These methods I'm learning are very hard to put into an experimental scheme - difficult to control influences, basically.

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Knight of Honor

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quote:

Firlefanz wrote:
That makes it hard to walk the border between science and "paranormal" or "supernatural". These methods I'm learning are very hard to put into an experimental scheme - difficult to control influences, basically.



emoticon I understand! Actually, I see a lot of similarities between trying to perform experiments on "paranormal" issues and trying to perform experiements on "real" issues on the forefront of physics. For example, the inflationary theory that describes the first few minutes of the big bang has about as little data describing it as most paranormal issues have. (And, I might add, for that reason, there are a lot of scientists who would be thrilled to see inflationary theory proved wrong somehow!)

Trouble is, until such experiments can be made and until observations can be repeated, we can have no more knowledge than, "Well, this is a cool idea that might answer this question. You'll just have to believe me that it works." And requiring that sort of blind, unquestioning belief is totally counter to scientific prinicples. I love dragons, but until there is some evidence, I won't believe that there is one in your garage. emoticon


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Yeah ... many times I have wished for a Pern dragon to teleport to my room.

  emoticon

Last edited by Firlefanz, 10/30/2007, 7:27 pm


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quote:

Firlefanz wrote:
Yeah ... many times I have wished for a Pern dragon to teleport to my room.



I know! And think how much energy (and money) we cuold save if we could teleport home for the holidays and such, instead of using cars and airplanes!

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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


I've sometimes wondered how much power those jumps cost. emoticon
10/30/2007, 10:57 pm Link to this post Email QS2   PM QS2
 
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


You are not accelerating and you are not changing your momentum or (if no height change) your gravitational potential energy. You are not raising your temperature. In Newtonian mechanics there is nothing you are doing that requires an expenditure of energy. The only "work" you might need to do is pushing the air away from the space you arrive in, and how much energy does that take?

Theoretically, teleportation should require zero energy.

I don't know why we're not all doing it, really emoticon



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Well, I've been practicing! Every day after work, I spend thirty seconds trying to beam myself home. It hasn't worked yet, but I'll get there some day, dang it! (How am I going to get my car home then, I wonder?...)

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Duh - drive home, then teleport from the car to the kitchen.

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I like my Sagan where he belongs, explaining to me what color the universe appears to be as I approach an event horizon.

When I was flirting with majoring in philosophy most of my interest was in Epistemology.

The dragon example that Sagan gives is easily countered. It is strongly related to a regress argument. The problem being that any number of those counter arguments are easily countered (and have been throughout the ages). This makes me wonder how familiar Sagan is with Epistemology. It's also the reason I didn't pursue those studies further. Or as Heinlein put it (I'm paraphrasing as best as I can remember here) "Despite it's long history, philosophy has yet to answer even one basic question."

Another thing which I noted about Sagan while reading his notes on the Dogon creation mythology, was his lack of basic understanding of anthropology.

He is not alone in this regard, many of the humanists like Assimov seem to be unaware of the action myths, the metaphysical, and religion play in reinforcing beliefs beneficial to the survival of a culture, and how this process occurs. The metaphysical beliefs of a culture are rarely random, often they serve to reinforce actions beneficial to that culture at the time of thier creation. This is not always the case, but when it isn't the culture usually dissapears.


BTW: What do you need a car for if you can teleport? Wouldn't you glady trade your car to never again be trapped on the upper deck of 35 in the August sun? *sweats just thinking about it*
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11/1/2007, 4:55 pm Link to this post Email BaneBlade   PM BaneBlade
 
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

BaneBlade wrote:
The dragon example that Sagan gives is easily countered. It is strongly related to a regress argument. The problem being that any number of those counter arguments are easily countered (and have been throughout the ages).



Whoa. Slow down for those of us who are engineers and don't know the lingo you're talking. Give me an example of what you mean, so that my lack of formal philosophy classes doesn't hinder my comprehension of what you're saying. Counter Sagan's arguments to show me what you mean, please.

quote:

He is not alone in this regard, many of the humanists like Assimov seem to be unaware of the action myths, the metaphysical, and religion play in reinforcing beliefs beneficial to the survival of a culture, and how this process occurs. The metaphysical beliefs of a culture are rarely random, often they serve to reinforce actions beneficial to that culture at the time of thier creation. This is not always the case, but when it isn't the culture usually dissapears.


Actually, this is exactly what I've gotten out of a number of Sagan's books. He does seem to recognize that the myths have a reason for existing: to stabilize or improve the society in some way. I've never heard him argue that that's not true. However, he also comments that just because a story stabilizes a society doesn't make that story TRUE. And he questions if some of the "myths" we have in today's society are actually beneficial today, or if they're just carryovers from a few hundred years ago.

quote:

BTW: What do you need a car for if you can teleport? Wouldn't you glady trade your car to never again be trapped on the upper deck of 35 in the August sun? *sweats just thinking about it*


HAHAHA! Indeed. But what if I can't get my newly-discovered teleportation skils to work a second time?! I supposed I'd have to beg a ride off my friend, then, huh. :-) I think it'd still be worth the experience of teleportation!

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11/1/2007, 6:28 pm Link to this post Email Reythia   PM Reythia AIM MSN
 
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


Hey Rey, I bet you're familiar with the regress argument, you probably just know it by another name.

Essentially it deals with the problem of proving a statement (proposition) true. If we prove it to be be true with a justification, then the skeptic, can ask us to prove that justification to be true. If we then prove our justification with a second justication (let's call it J2) then the skeptic can ask us to prove J2 to be true. So we offer up J3 but the skeptic asks us to prove that as well...ad infinitum.

There are many, many different theories that try to work out the regress problem but they all essentially boil down to:

1. Some statements are axioms. These are inherently true (I.E. self-evident and require no justification.)

-Or-

2. A statement may be supported by a multitude of other justifications that lead back to it (this is often countered as being an example of "begging the question" or "circular logic")

-Or-

3. The statements go on forever(the basis of some types of skepticism).

quote:

And he questions if some of the "myths" we have in today's society are actually beneficial today, or if they're just carryovers from a few hundred years ago.



That's not a new a idea there's actually a name for the process that causes these "myths" to be altered or forgotten to keep up with a cultures needs but I'm struggling to remember it...I'll dig my old anthropology textbook out and see if I can find it.

quote:

HAHAHA! Indeed. But what if I can't get my newly-discovered teleportation skils to work a second time?! I supposed I'd have to beg a ride off my friend, then, huh. :-) I think it'd still be worth the experience of teleportation!



With my luck I'ld try to teleport to school but only my body would make the jump, leaving my clothes at home. *sit up in bed* Now there's a new variation on an old nightmare.

Last edited by BaneBlade, 11/2/2007, 4:46 am


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11/2/2007, 12:10 am Link to this post Email BaneBlade   PM BaneBlade
 
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

BaneBlade wrote:
Hey Rey, I bet you're familiar with the regress argument, you probably just know it by another name.



Yes, you're right. Most of those are good reasons why you should NEVER argue with a three-year-old! emoticon "Why? But WHY? WHY???" *sigh*

Still, I don't really see how they apply to Sagan's example, actually. Honestly, I encourage you to demonstrate. I've never had a formal class in such things, so I'd be interested to see how one should formally counter such an argument.


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I thought that Sagan brought that example up to demonstrate the faulty logic as used in religion. This kind of logic is oftently favored by atheists to show the ridiculousness of a position.
11/2/2007, 9:21 pm Link to this post Email QS2   PM QS2
 
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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

QS2 wrote:
I thought that Sagan brought that example up to demonstrate the faulty logic as used in religion. This kind of logic is oftently favored by atheists to show the ridiculousness of a position.



He has used similar logic to "prove" that God doesn't exist -- or at least, to show that there's no proof that He does. But no, this particular example has nothing to do with atheism. He's arguing against people who believe that aliens have landed on the Earth in UFOs and conducted sexual experiements on people.

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Re: A Writer's Moral Responsibility?


quote:

BaneBlade wrote:
The dragon example that Sagan gives is easily countered. It is strongly related to a regress argument. The problem being that any number of those counter arguments are easily countered (and have been throughout the ages).



And

quote:

BaneBlade wrote:
Essentially it deals with the problem of proving a statement (proposition) true. If we prove it to be be true with a justification, then the skeptic, can ask us to prove that justification to be true. If we then prove our justification with a second justication (let's call it J2) then the skeptic can ask us to prove J2 to be true. So we offer up J3 but the skeptic asks us to prove that as well...ad infinitum.

There are many, many different theories that try to work out the regress problem but they all essentially boil down to:

1. Some statements are axioms. These are inherently true (I.E. self-evident and require no justification.)

-Or-

2. A statement may be supported by a multitude of other justifications that lead back to it (this is often countered as being an example of "begging the question" or "circular logic")

-Or-

3. The statements go on forever(the basis of some types of skepticism).



I don't understand how being a 'regress argument' invalidates the argument against the dragon really exisiting. This regress argument seems like a useful tool, because if we apply it to the dragon in Sagan's garage we would ultimately have to say one of the following:

1. The dragon is an axiom. It is inherently true that the dragon exists.

(It is inherently true that this position is meaningless in the real world.)

-Or-

2. The existance of the dragon must be supported by a multitude of other justifications that lead back to it.

(And if even one of those justifications can be empirically proven, everybody will be happy. Otherwise, there's no dragon.)

-Or-

3. The statements go on forever.

(Because the initial statement was false so you're never going to get a provable statement that supports it.)

What is wrong with the argument so far? It's doing a useul job and giving us useful information about the truth of the statement.

Let's apply the regress argument to something that all scientists would accept the truth of, let's say, gravity, and see if the argument fails. We end up with one of the following conclusions about gravity:

1. Gravity is an axiom. It is inherently true that gravity exists. (No, not really.)

-Or-

2. The existance of gravity is supported by a multitude of statements of observational fact that lead back to it. (Yes, it is. Looking good for gravity.)

-Or-

3. The statements go on forever. (But they don't, because almost as soon as you start you're going to hit so many observaable, consistent, repeatable results that your argument against gravilty completely falls apart.

I think that we can say, until further evidence turns up, that gravity does exist. Equally, we can say that, until real evidence turns up, the dragon in Sagan's garage doesn't exist.

Result!

If this 'regress argument' can show that we should accept the reality of gravity and also show that we should not (without further proof) accept the dragon in Sagan's garage, that seems like a good argument and a useful tool.



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