Tag Archives: Health - Page 2

Will

As a runner, martial artist and philosopher I have considerable interest in the matter of the will. As might be imagined, my view of the will is shaped mostly by my training and competitions. Naturally enough, I see the will from my own perspective and in my own mind. As such, much as Hume noted in his discussion of personal identity, I am obligated to note that other people might find that their experiences vary considerably. That is, other people might see their will as very different or they might even not believe that they have a will at all.

As a gamer, I also have the odd habit of modeling reality in terms of game rules and statistics—I am approaching the will in the same manner. This is, of course, similar to modeling reality in other ways, such as using mathematical models.

In my experience, my will functions as a mental resource that allows me to remain in control of my actions. To be a bit more specific, the use of the will allows me to prevent other factors from forcing me to act or not act in certain ways. In game terms, I see the will as being like “hit points” that get used up in the battle against these other factors. As with hit points, running out of “will points” results in defeat. Since this is rather abstract, I will illustrate this with two examples.

This morning (as I write this) I did my usual Tuesday work out: two hours of martial arts followed by about two hours of running. Part of my running workout  was doing hill repeats in the park—this involves running up and down the hill over and over (rather like marching up and down the square). Not surprisingly, this becomes increasingly painful and fatiguing. As such, the pain and fatigue were “trying” to stop me. I wanted to keep running up and down the hill and doing this required expending those will points. This is because without my will the pain and fatigue would stop me well before I am actually physically incapable of running anymore. Roughly put, as long as I have will points to expend I could keep running until I collapse from exhaustion. At that point no amount of will can move the muscles and my capacity to exercise my will in this matter would also be exhausted. Naturally, I know that training to the point of exhaustion would do more harm than good, so I will myself to stop running even though I desire to keep going. I also know from experience that my will can run out while racing or training—that is, I give in to fatigue or pain before my body is actually at the point of physically failing.  These occurrences are failures of will and nicely illustrate that the will can run out or be overcome.

After my run, I had my breakfast and faced the temptation of two boxes of assorted chocolates. Like all humans, I really like sugar and hence there was a conflict between my hunger for chocolate and my choice to not shove lots of extra calories and junk into my pie port. My hunger, of course, “wants” to control me. But, of course, if I yield to the hunger for chocolate then I am not in control—the desire is directing me against my will. Of course, the hunger is not going to simply “give up” and it must be controlled by expending will and doing this keeps me in control of my actions by making them my choice.

Naturally, many alternatives to the will can be presented. For example, Hobbes’ account of deliberation is that competing desires (or aversions) “battle it out”, but the stronger always wins and thus there is no matter of will or choice. However, I rather like my view more and it seems to match my intuitions and experiences.

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Virginia’s Ultrasound Law

English: The state seal of Virginia. Српски / ...

Is that an ultrasound probe?

The Virginia state legislature is on track to pass a law requiring women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before being permitted to have an abortion. As might be imagined, there is considerable opposition to this law. Some critics have  even argued that forcing women to undergo an invasive procedure could actually be a sex crime under Virginia law. As might be imagined, this matter raises numerous moral concerns.

One point of concern is that, as presented in comedic fashion on the 2/21/2012 Daily Show, some of the folks supporting the bill seem to be directly violating their own professed principles regarding the appropriate role of the state. For example, the woman who put forth the bill previously argued against “Obamacare” on the grounds that the state should not make such an imposition on liberty. As another example, the governor of the state was critical of the TSA “pat downs” as being too invasive. He has, however, expressed his intent to sign the bill into law.

As might be imagined, forcing women to undergo such an invasive procedure seems to be rather inconsistent with the past arguments by these folks regarding individual liberty and the appropriate role of the state. After all, if it is unacceptable for the state to force people to buy health insurance because it violates their liberty, forcing a woman to undergo penetration against her will seems to be even more unacceptable.

Naturally, I am not claiming that these people are wrong now because their current view seems to be inconsistent with their past views. After all, doing this would be a fallacy (ad hominem tu quoque). However, it is fair to simply take the reasons they presented against forcing people to buy health insurance and apply them to their own view on the forced ultrasounds. As such, if they were right then, then they would seem to be rather wrong now. Naturally, people tend to not be very big on consistency-as Mill noted in his discussion of liberty, people generally take the view that the state should do what they want and do not base this on a consistent principle regarding what is fit and unfit for the state to do (or not do).

The most important point of concern is, obviously enough, whether or not it is right for the state to mandate such a procedure. While, as noted above, proponents of this bill seem to have railed against state imposition in other matters,I will accept that  there are cases in which the state can justly impose. The question then is whether or not this is such a case.

The most common basis for justifying state imposition is the prevention of harm. To use an obvious example, the state justly forbids people from stealing. In the case of the ultrasound, the assumption seems to be that this law will help reduce the number of abortions and this will, as some folks see it, combat a harm. However, the evidence seems to be that this will not be the case. Dr. Jen Gunter has a rather thoughtful analysis of this matter that addresses this point. As she notes, sex education,access to medical care and  contraception have the greatest impact on reducing abortion rates. These are, oddly enough, often opposed by the same folks who are vehemently opposed to abortion. As such, the law makes no sense as an abortion reducer even if it is assumed that the state has the right to make impositions with the goal of reducing abortions. In light of this, it would seem clear that the law is morally unjustified.

Even if the law would, contrary to fact, reduce the number of abortions, there is still the question of whether or not the state has the right to make such an imposition. After all, there are appealing arguments for individual liberty and keeping the government out of peoples’ business-often made by the very same people who back this particular intrusion into liberty (as noted above). My general principle is that the burden of proof rests on those who would make such impositions into law. That is, they have to provide a sufficient reason to warrant impinging on personal liberty and choice. As its stands, the proponents of this law have not made such a case. After all, it will not even achieve its apparent goal of reducing the number of abortions. There are also no legitimate medical reasons for making such an imposition and, as such, it seems to be an unwarranted and  needless attempt to legalize the violation of the rights and bodies of women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Free” Birth Control

Picture Of Ortho Tri-Cyclen oral contraceptive...

Image via Wikipedia

Starting in August 2012, most American health insurance will cover birth control and other preventative services for free. This is being required by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Not surprisingly, this has created some concerns.

One main concern is that this will result in an increase in premiums. After all, health insurance companies are in the business of making money and they will need to increase their income to offset the cost of covering birth control. Those who do not use this sort of birth control (men and some women) might regard this as unfair and wonder why they should have to pay a price for this new coverage. Those who have moral objections to birth control might also take issue with it being covered.

One obvious reply is that insurance already covers many things that many people will not use. One obvious example is Viagra. It is covered by insurance but is obviously not used by women and is also not used by many men who pay for insurance. Other obvious examples would be other sex specific medical procedures such as prostrate surgery and hysterectomies. If coverage of these things is acceptable (especially Viagra), then it would seem that covering birth control would also be acceptable. Of course, this does not address the moral concern.

While most people do regard birth control as morally acceptable, not everyone does and these folks might object to having it covered by insurance. This point has been addressed, at least to a degree:  the law makes an exception for religious organizations, most notable Catholic organizations. Interestingly enough, the majority of Catholic women and Evangelical Christian women claim to use birth control, despite the fact that the official religious dogma is against it. As such, some of these women will need to pay for their birth control (assuming their insurer is among the exempt). But such is the price of dogma.

Those who truly object to birth control and do not use it can, of course, try to acquire insurance through such organizations. That way they will not need to support, however indirectly, birth control. Of course, they will have to be careful to determine if the insurer covers anything else they might regard as morally offensive. For example, some people might find Viagra unacceptable.  If so, the only option might be to find a truly morally pure insurance company or (more likely) simply forgo insurance so as to avoid even the slightest connection with the morally distasteful.

Of course, some folks regard the coverage of birth control as an evil in and of itself and something that should be prevented. For these folks it is not enough to merely not buy insurance from the same company that provides coverage. These folks contend that birth control should not be covered at all.

One argument is the religious argument, or rather a limited religious argument. As noted above, the official Catholic position (which is relentlessly violated by Catholics) is against birth control. However, there is the obvious problem of making the dogma of one sect a deciding factor in the law of the land. As always is the case in such matters, I leave it up to God to show up at set the matter straight. Until then, of course, we’ll have to settle things by other means.

A second argument is that birth control is not a medicine in the sense that it does not treat or prevent a disease or other health threatening condition (with some notable exceptions). It does not, as Viagra proponents point out, restore a normal function of the body. Rather it simply does what the name states: it prevents (most of the time) pregnancy. As such, it can be argued that it should not be covered by insurance.

Viagra is, of course, covered by insurance. This provides a context in which an argument can be made for having insurance cover birth control. So, if Viagra is covered by insurance, then should birth control be covered?

The answer is clearly “yes.” One argument against covering birth control is that birth control is a matter of lifestyle choice and not (in most cases) a matter of health. Of course, this same argument could be applied to Viagra. Both Viagra and birth control seem to be lifestyle drugs. A person takes Viagra to be able to have sex and a person takes birth control to be able to have sex without becoming pregnant. In general, neither is needed for actual health. Unless, of course, one considers having sex to be important for health. If so, they are still on roughly equal footing.

It might be countered that Viagra is different because it simply restores a natural function that is lacking. In this regard it could be seen as analogous to a hearing aid or a pair of glasses. in contrast, birth control does not restore a natural function or correct a problem. It simply prevents a natural function from taking place.

This argument does have some plausibility. Naturally, the argument would justify covering birth control in the case of women who needed it for clear medical purposes rather than simply to avoid pregnancy. However, this would be a very small number of women.

It can be argued that insurance does cover treatments and medicines that are designed to enhance or preserve quality of life and that this would justify coverage of birth control. For example, a person might be on blood pressure medicine to keep her blood pressure from increasing further even though it is not currently high enough to be a significant danger. In the case of birth control, it could be argued that it is a medicine that enables a woman to maintain a desired quality of life. As such, it would be a preventative medicine. Of course, this would seem to imply that pregnancy is in the same category as diseases and such.

Another argument that can be employed is this: if Viagra is covered and it is justified because men should be able to chose to have sex, then birth control should also be covered because it enables women to chose not to become pregnant. If men need to have sex and hence Viagra should be covered, then women can argue that they also need to be able to avoid getting pregnant and hence birth control should be covered. This seems reasonable.

As a final point, it seems sensible and morally correct to have birth control covered. This coverage might help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus result in less costs (monetary and social). If so, covering birth control could turn out to be financially a good idea-even if premiums are increased, the overall costs might be lower. There is also the moral argument that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies would create more happiness than unhappiness-and also perhaps reduce the number of abortions. Then again, maybe the coverage will have no impact-it all depends on how many women forgo birth control on the basis of cost.

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The Nanny Corporation

Nanny and the Professor

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While the “nanny state” is commonly presented as a bugbear, there is typically little talk of the nanny corporation. Like the nanny state, the nanny corporation acts to control people “for their own good.” Interestingly, this is a rather old idea: Henry Ford docked his workers’ pay if they smoked, drank or visited hookers.

While all companies impose a certain degree of tyranny at work (think about all the rules for decoration, dress, behavior and so on that go beyond mere professionalism), the nanny corporation purports to have the right to control people outside of work.

For example, Scotts Miracle-Gro does random urine tests for nicotine. Those who fail are fired. As such, the company demands that workers not smoke-even on their own time. As another example, Clarian Health fines employees $10 per check for being fat and $5 each time they exceed the allowed levels for glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol on regular tests. These are, of course, the sort of impositions that folks who loath the nanny state rail against.

It might be argued that since employees are free to leave a job, these “nannyisms” are a matter of free choice and thus are not truly impositions. After all, a person who wants to smoke can simply elect to not work for Scotts Miracle Grow. In the case of the state, people have far less choice. While they can leave the country, this is something  rather more difficult than merely seeking a different job.

That said, it could be argued that the nanny state is, at least in the case of democracies, also a matter of choice. People vote for or against the nannyisms and are obligated, as per John Locke;s arguments,  to accept the results of these votes (with some notable exceptions that would justify rebellion and resistance). As such, the nanny state would be little worse than the nanny corporation and if choice justifies the nannying, then the state nannyisms wold be just as justified as those of corporations.

It might also be argued that the corporations are merely acting in the way they are supposed to act: to maximize profits. While this nannying might be seen as for the workers’ own good, these impositions actually aim at the bottom line. Healthy employees are more productive, have fewer sick days and cost the company less in health care. As such, nannying is a way to enhance profits or, at least, lower costs.

Of course, proponents of the nanny state can avail themselves of the same sort of argument. Citizens who take poor care of themselves and engage in risky behavior are a greater burden on the public than people who take care of themselves and elect to follow healthy behavior patterns. As such, the same sort of financial and productivity argument can be given. After all, what is good for Miracle Grow is thus good for the nation.

Naturally enough, some people (such as myself) find the public and private nannying to be rather undesirable. After all, as Mill effectively argued, as long as I am a competent adult and not harming others, then I should not be forced to act as others think I should act. Even if it is, in fact, for my own good.

Of course, the argument that the individual is being imposed upon for the general good (or corporate profits) does have some bite. An unhealthy employee who is unhealthy through his/her own choices and actions is unfairly harming the company with lowered productivity, more missed days, and often greater costs. As such, the company would seem to have the right to impose to avoid said harms and fire workers who refused. Likewise, the state has the right to impose on citizens in order to avoid the harms that would accrue from their poor choices regarding health and behavior.

People should, however, have the chance to opt out. As noted above, people who wish to engage in behavior that goes against company policy can find another job. If they prefer to behave in harmful ways, then they cannot expect the company to bear the cost of this behavior. In the case of citizens, they should also have the option to opt out. This can be done by leaving or, less extremely, by forfeiting their claims to state support. So, for example, a person could elect to smoke and forgo buying health insurance. However on that day when she finds she has lung cancer, she cannot expect the state (that is, the rest of us) to pick up the tab for her. She had her choice and, as they say, choices have consequences. While it might be argued that such people would still be owed care and support, the failure would not be on the part of the state. Rather, the person could see who failed them by looking in the mirror. Naturally,  citizens can also seek to change the laws so that they can behave in unhealthy ways and yet still have others bear some of the costs for them.

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Creativity and the Kanzius Machine

Earlier this decade, the Pennsylvanian inventor John Kanzius went into his garage and started tinkering with radio equipment. When he came out again, he had created a machine that would take the media by storm. The machine was ostensibly novel in two different ways: as a method in the treatment of cancer, and as a means of “burning” saltwater. Kanzius was an innovator.

A good idea is a good idea. Most of us would like to have more of them, so it would be nice to know where they come from. What makes a person innovative? What is the cause of creativity? If we hope to answer these questions, we ought to drift slightly away from philosophy and into a concrete case. I propose we take a look at the case of John Kanzius.

What Creativity Is

Another way of asking the question, “Where do these creative things come from?”, is to ask about the creative process. What stages does a person go through when they’re doing creative work?

Margaret Boden’s The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms [amazon] is an easy-to-read introduction to creativity in cognitive science. According to Boden’s model of the creative process (credited to mathematician-philosopher Henri Poincare), there are four phases in the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. The preparation phase “involves conscious attempts to solve the problem, by using or explicitly adapting familiar methods”. This stage includes a recognition of the problem, puzzle, or project, and the motivation to engage in such a project. It’s the period of long nights, headaches, and false starts. The incubation phase is when the mind consciously focuses on other pursuits, but unconsciously works upon the ideas and problems freely. The unconscious mind wanders hither and yon, while the waking mind focuses elsewhere. The illumination phase is the moment of enlightenment, the flash of insight that reveals both the possible solution or endgoal. This is the time when the muse comes to visit. In the verification/evaluation phase, one begins implementing the insight, applying it to the problem-space in a conscious and systematic way. (Boden 2005: 29-31)

It seems obvious, at least to me, that the first and the last of these phases can be directly augmented by collaboration with other people. Conscious conversation can help structure the ways that people think, and getting a firm grip on the problem and proposed solutions are all about discovering those structures. But the middle two phases (incubation, illumination) cannot be directly augmented by collaboration. They are the most secretive and exotic phases in the creative process. That having been said, part of the point of the discussion below will be to show something about the social element of creativity. It need not be the case that we think of innovators as having access to a magical realm of ideas that eludes ordinary people.

At the end of the day, the study of creativity is the study of how people create products. The products can be anything — an invention, a painting, a theory, a song, a philosophy. But the point is always that, at the end of the process, there’s something to show for it. While this four-phase model is useful in giving a rough answer to the question at the top, it won’t be satisfying to someone who want to ask the further question: “Where do these damned ideas come from?” Also, it won’t be useful to someone who wants to know more about the craft, asking questions like “What’s your technique?” or “Where did you learn to do this so well?” Since all of these are very natural questions, it sometimes pays for us to distinguish between pre-illumination and post-illumination parts of the creative process.

But creativity isn’t just about creating products. If that were true, then any old robot on an assembly line could be called “creative”. Rather, creativity is the creation of a product in such a way that the product is novel, surprising, and valuable. (Boden 2005) My plan is to talk a little bit about what makes the story of John Kanzius all three of these things, sometimes making reference to research in the psychology of creativity.

kanzius1

Photo courtesy of Island Sun Newspaper

Kanzius and the Machine

John Kanzius spent his life as an executive of Erie, Pennsylvania radio stations as a partner at Jet Broadcasting Company. Working in radio was a natural vocation for him, since reports have it that he had been “building radios since childhood”. (Chen:2007) He accomplished his career without holding a degree from any college or university. After he retired, he moved to Sanibel Island, Florida with his wife.

In 2002, Kanzius was diagnosed with leukemia, a form of cancer that afflicts the blood. Subsequently, he underwent chemotherapy treatments at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas with the oncologist Dr. Steven Curley. (Gupta:2008) Chemotherapy is one of many processes in the treatment of cancer which suppresses the growth of cancer cells at the cost of damaging healthy tissue.

During the course of his treatments, he was taken aback by the effects of the chemotherapy upon afflicted children. “I noticed young kids losing their smiles, losing their hair. And I said to myself, ‘Today’s chemotherapy is cruel. And there’s got to be a better way to treat cancer.’ ” (Sawyer:2007) His sympathy for the suffering around him would seem be entrenched. “I ran into the same patients over and over again, and to see their smiles disappear within a few weeks and then watch their hair disappear and them clinging to their mothers, asking, ‘What’s wrong with me,’ was heartbreaking.” (Chen:2007) By January of 2008, after his 36th round of chemotherapy, Kanzius would say with reference to himself, “I didn’t think that one could feel this bad and still be alive”. (Stahl:2009) The chemotherapy put him in a state of affective vulnerability. (For a study on affective vulnerability and creativity, see Akinola 2008.)

Had alternative therapies been available to him and his fellow patients, they would not have been any less invasive. For example, a form of cancer treatment called “radiofrequency ablation” kills cancer cells by inserting a needle into a target area and coursing radiofrequency currents through it, which would raise the temperature until the cells die. (Nephin:2005) But obviously this is a hard thing to endure. So Kanzius was determined to find a non-invasive solution. Following Poincare’s checklist, he had found a problem to work on — he had entered the preparation phase.

Inspiration struck one night as he lay in bed with insomnia. Kanzius reflected back on his thoughts at the time: “What if I could make the cancer cells act like little radio receivers and pick up the signal? And when they pick up the signal, they get hot, they create a fever and the cancer cell dies?” (Gupta:2008) With this intuition in mind, Kanzius immediately set himself to work creating a radiofrequency generator using materials found around the house. This was his moment of illumination.

His initial idea was to target the cells alone with radio waves, but this plan alone was a non-starter. As the director of the radiation oncology program at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center noted, research had already been done into the electroconductivity of cancer cells relative to normal cells, though no “magic frequency” had been found that targeted only cancer cells. (Nephin 2005) But Kanzius then took the idea to Dr. Curley, his oncologist, who took the idea to a colleague. Kanzius’s conviction prompted the colleague to suggest the idea that the injection of gold or metallic particles into malignant cells, and the use of radio waves to heat up the particles, would accomplish exactly what Kanzius set out to do. (Kanzius:2006) Ideally, the process would target specific cancer cells without damaging the living tissue that surrounds it. And unlike chemotherapy or radiofrequency ablation, it would ideally be a non-invasive procedure. Kanzius had found his collaborators, who gave him a plan for refining his initial concept.

It would soon be demonstrated that the process that Kanzius inspired could induce hyperthermia in the metallic particles, kind of like putting a fork in the microwave. Testing of this procedure was underway by 2005 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Those doing the testing were cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the research. Dr. Curley continued to endorse the prospect of a novel means of cancer treatment in 2009, describing the project as “the most exciting thing [he] had seen in twenty years of cancer research”. (Sawyer 2009)

Kanzius was a man with intrinsic motivation, at least in the sense that the motivation to develop a cancer cure in a specific way was derived from confidence in the initial insight. For we recall that immediately upon getting the idea he jumped out of bed and began assembling the machine, and his enthusiasm for the project persisted even after a sober examination of the evidence indicated that research would not be completed in time to treat his own ailment. (For a study on intrinsic motivation and creativity, see Prabhu:2008)

Regrettably, Kanzius himself passed away in early 2009. Yet Kanzius’s research project continues apace. Dr. Curley has developed a kind of molecule that is attracted to cancer cells, which he then attaches to the gold particles. In experiments, he reports having shown that the molecules successfully hone in on cancer cells in petri dishes. When exposed to Kanzius’s radiofrequency (RF) generator, Curley reports a “hundred percent kill” of the malignant cells. Animal testing has begun, with some positive results, and resulted in the publication of six papers in scientific journals. Moreover, Curley has begun talks with the Food and Drug Administration in anticipation of human clinical trials, though this may take upwards of two to four years of further research to initiate. (Sawyer:2009)

To be clear, the use of gold particles in reaction to electromagnetic fields is an idea that was at least contemporaneously known in the community of cancer researchers. Use of near-infrared light and strong alternating magnetic fields were tested in 2003, though these methods have practical limitations. (Moran:2009) However, there is no question that, as a treatment of cancer, the invention was a completely novel idea. The treatment of cancer using this procedure has created a series of articles in professional journals, has won praise and cooperation from an intially skeptical Nobel laureate (Rick Smalley), facilitated a series of patent applications (at least one of which has been granted), and inspired a medical research group headed by Dr. Curley that is currently finding success in practical applications of Kanzius’s machine. (Simon: 2008)

“Saltwater Burns!”

But that is not the end of the story.

An additional discovery happened during the process of testing Kanzius’s machine when he discovered, after doing some tests on desalination of saltwater, that the radiofrequency generator was capable of initiating oxidation-reduction. During redox there is a transfer of electrons from oxygen atoms to hydrogen atoms in converting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. What’s happening is that hydrogen atoms are being reduced (from +1 state to 0 state) and oxygen atoms are being oxidized (from a -2 to 0 state). (Bissonnette, in conversation) As a result, was demonstrated before an audience at the Materials Research Lab at Penn State that the hydrogen can then be ignited. (Roy:n.d.)

Or, if you drop the jargon: they showed how to burn saltwater.

Then the local media shifted into overdrive, suggesting that saltwater could be used as an alternative energy source. Unfortunately, this isn’t a practical option. The amount of energy that is produced by the burning saltwater is the same as that which goes into powering the machine that burns it. But despite some unfortunate public comments to the contrary, the chemistry behind the process is as simple as it is well known. Furthermore, the more specific impact of radiofrequency generators upon chemical reactions have had a long and studied history, though typically the interest has been in the effects of static fields upon the yields and rates of chemical reactions. (Stass:2000) A static field is contrasted with time-varying electromagnetic fields, in which the current alternates directions — for instance, devices like Kanzius’s that make use of radiofrequency radiation. (WHO:2009)

Unfortunately, it is not clear whether or not it is genuinely novel as a method of ionizing saltwater. Original news reports featured interviews from professionals like John White (a polymer engineer) who seemed to believe that Kanzius’s discovery contributed surprising new insight into our body of knowledge in the applications of radiofrequency technology to chemistry. (NBC:2008) Others have had a less enthusiastic assessment. Stephen Reucroft and John Swain of Northeastern University argued that we already knew about the effects of radio waves on inorganic substances: i.e., the reaction of a fork to a microwave. (2008) Still, their assessment of the interaction between saltwater and the relevant sort of radio waves was terse and presented for a newspaper audience. This makes it hard for a naive observer to see if they were downplaying a genuine innovation for the sake of cutting off the “saltwater as fuel” myth, or that this particular means of producing redox in saltwater was not innovative at all. So, on the basis of the data available at the time of this writing, I was not able to determine if Kanzius was the first to demonstrate that electromagnetic fields could be used as a catalyst in the production of hydrogen from saltwater. (I don’t doubt that someone in the comments section can school me.)

For now, it is enough to note that this discovery was serendipitous, and surprising in that way. And serendipitous inventions can make for the stuff of legend. As Boden points out, the history of scientific creativity contains legendary cases like that of Fleming, who discovered penicillin through sheer accident. This is a case of finding without looking, where the outcome is both unpredictable and random in some sense of those terms.

The Point

My task here was to convince you that we can legitimately be interested in asking the question, “Where did Mrs. So-and-so’s idea come from?”, as opposed to more general questions about the whole process of creativity. Sometimes, people are able to hit two birds with one stone. Kanzius invented a possible means of destroying one of the worst ailments known to humankind, and yet he also may have provided a novel means of ionizing saltwater. Creative products can be surprising in different ways at the same time.

Another take-home message is that so much can depend on the amount of time and energy that collaborators put into making sure that the product comes out right. So: to be creative, you don’t necessarily need to be a lone wolf. Help can be found in unexpected quarters: Dr. Curley, the media, local politicians, and indeed Mrs. Kanzius.The help of minds and bodies willing to engage with Kanzius’s novel idea might one day turn out to give us a treatment for cancer.

Please click here to visit the Kanzius Research Centre to learn more, and to donate to the research group.

Works cited and further reading.

  • Akinola, Modupe, et al. “The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (2008)
  • Batey, Mark, et al. “The relationship between measures of creativity and schizotypy.” Personality and Individual Differences. Netherlands: Elsevier Science. (2008)
  • Bissonnette, Carey. In conversation. (2009)
  • Boden, Margaret. The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms. 2nd ed. New York: Taylor & Francis. (2005)
  • Chamorro-Premuzic, T., et al. “Effects of personality and threat of evaluation on divergent and convergent thinking.” Journal of Research in Personality. Academic Press Inc. Elsevier Science. (2008)
  • Chen, Julie. (2007). Scientists testing radio-wave device made by John Kanzius to cure cancer. [Television series episode]. In The Early Show. CBS.
  • Czernecka, Karolina; Blazej Szymura. “Alexithymia-imagination-creativity.” Personality and Individual Differences. Netherlands: Elsevier Science. 2008.
  • Furnham, Adrian, et al. “Personality, hypomania, intelligence and creativity.” Personality and individual differences. Netherlands: Elsevier Science. (2008)
  • Gupta, Sanjay. (2008). A Way to destroy cancer? [Television series episode]. In House Call. CNN.
  • Harrison, Y.; J. A. Horne. “One Night of Sleep Loss Impairs Innovative Thinking and Flexible Decision Making”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 78, Issue 2, May 1999, Pages 128-145, ISSN 0749-5978, DOI: 10.1006/obhd.1999.2827. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6WP2-45FCPSY-18/2/bd4f1591716abc1082b5146be601c1fb)
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42 Fallacies for Free

As a free gift to the readers of the Talking Philosophy blog, I offer my 42 Fallacies. It is a PDF book containing definitions and examples of 42 common fallacies. I assure you that it is worth every penny. For Kindle fans, it is also available for 99 cents (or the equivalent in other countries) in the US, the UK and elsewhere. 

Perhaps the best (and meanest) use was suggested by a friend of mine: email the file to someone with the subject “You really need this.” This could lead to a discussion on the ethics of using a philosophy book in an act of cruelty.

 

 

 

 

The book contains the following fallacies.

Ad Hominem
Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief
Appeal to Authority
Appeal to Belief
Appeal to Common Practice
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Fear
Appeal to Flattery
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Pity
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Ridicule
Appeal to Spite
Appeal to Tradition
Begging the Question
Biased Generalization
Burden of Proof
Circumstantial Ad Hominem
Fallacy of Composition
Confusing Cause and Effect
Fallacy of Division
False Dilemma
Gambler’s Fallacy
Genetic Fallacy
Guilt by Association
Hasty Generalization
Ignoring a Common Cause
Middle Ground
Misleading Vividness
Peer Pressure
Personal Attack
Poisoning the Well
Post Hoc
Questionable Cause
Red Herring
Relativist Fallacy
Slippery Slope

 

 

 

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Weight Discrimination?

Picture of an Obese Teenager (146kg/322lb) wit...
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CNN recently aired a segment about a woman who was charged an extra $5 by a salon for being obese. Or, to be more precise, she was charged a fee for the extra wear and tear her extra weight placed upon the salon chairs.  This situation, not surprisingly, once again raises the matter of discrimination and the obese.

On the one hand, charging obese people more could be seen a discrimination. After all, they are being charged more simply because of who they are. If a business charged people with dark skin more, that would be condemned as vile discrimination. So, one might argue, to discriminate against people based on how much they have packed under their skin would also be wrong.

On the other hand, charging obese people more in certain conditions would not be discrimination. As a general rule, different treatment that is not justified by a relevant difference would count as discrimination. For example, refusing to allow someone to shop in a store because she is black would be discrimination. After all, ethnicity is not a relevant difference. Also as a general rule, different treatment that is properly justified by a relevant difference would not be discrimination. For example, if someone repeatedly shoplifted from a store and attacked customers and employees alike, then banning her from the store would not be discrimination.

In the case of the obese, it would not be discrimination to charge them more if they, in fact, subject equipment and furniture to more stress and wear due to their greater weight. Of course, this would also apply to the non-obese who are very heavy.  For example, if a salon station is designed and specified to be able to support a 200 pound customer, someone who exceeds that weight would be putting more wear and tear on the station than other customers. As such, it makes sense that they would have to pay more. It even makes sense that they could be refused service on the basis that they could injure themselves and the employee by breaking the chair. This seems to be a rather relevant difference.

In support of this, consider the following analogy. Imagine that Jane and I are renting trucks for some major weekend projects. Jane hauls a lot of light material and does not put much wear on the truck. However, I spend the weekend hauling heavy stones, massive wooden poles, and lots of scrap metal. As such, I put a lot of wear and tear on the truck. As such, it would seem fair to charge me more on the basis of this extra wear. Naturally, this assumes that such extra wear and tear is not part of the normal rental conditions. To continue the analogy, it would seem fair for the rental company to refuse to rent me a truck if I made it clear that I intended to load it beyond its capacity.

it might be countered that this is still discrimination because it is treating people differently because they are obese (or just very heavy). They are, one might assert, being singled out for different treatment and this is unfair.

However, this reply has no traction in the sort of situations under consideration. An obese person whose weight can actually damage equipment and furniture is not the victim of unfair prejudice. Rather, she is a “victim” of physics because her weight increases the cost of providing such services.

Of course, it might be argued that the obese would be victims of discrimination when businesses do not upgrade their equipment and furniture to handle people of greater weight. The analogy to accommodating people with disabilities is obvious. In such cases, the burden of accommodation rests on the businesses.

In reply, accommodating people who are disabled seems to be different from being forced to upgrade to handle the obese. After all, being obese seems to be a matter of choice and the fix is simple and obvious enough (eat less and exercise more). As such, the burden of accommodation does not rest on the businesses but on the obese people. It would thus be unreasonable to expect businesses to make a special effort to accommodate them.

From a practical standpoint, however, it might be good business to upgrade for the obese. After all, obesity is on the rise and hence the obese provide an ever expanding pool of potential customers. But, as Kant argued, what is prudent is distinct from what is a moral duty.

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Self Interest

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

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One general challenge is getting people to act properly. What counts as proper behavior is, of course, a rather contentious matter. However, it seems reasonable to believe that at the most basic level harming others is not proper behavior.

It can be argued that self interest will motivate people to act properly. The stock argument (which is based on Hobbes, Locke, and Smith) is that a rational person will realize that behaving badly is not in his self interest because the consequences to himself will be negative.

Naturally, a person might be tempted to act badly if she thinks she can avoid these consequences, which is why it is rather important to make sure that these consequences are rather difficult to avoid. In addition to this concern, there are also other concerns about self-interest as a regulating factor on bad behavior.

First, for self-interest to be a regulating factor, a person’s self interest must coincide with acting correctly. If a person’s self-interest (or what he believed is his self-interest) goes against acting correctly, then he will be inclined to act incorrectly. Not surprisingly, various philosophers have tried to argue that what is truly in a person’s self interest is to act correctly. While there are some good arguments (such as those presented by Socrates) for this view, there are also good arguments that this is not the case. Naturally, from a purely practical standpoint the trick is to get people to believe that their self-interest coincides with not acting badly.

Second, even if it is assumed that it is in a person’s interest to act correctly this will not motivate a person to act correctly unless a person knows what is in her self-interest. While it is tempting to assume that a person automatically knows what is in her self interest, this need not be the case. After all, a person can think that something is in her best interest, yet be mistaken about this. A person might be misled by his emotions, confused or wrong about the facts (to give but a few examples).

Third, even if it is assumed that a person knows what is in her self-interest and that it is in her self-interest to act correctly, there is still the question of whether the person will chose to act in accord with her self-interest or not. To use a simple example, a person might know that exercising is in her self-interest, but be unable to stick with exercising. Roughly put, a person might have knowledge but lack the will or motivation to act on this knowledge.

Thus, self-interest can play a role in regulating behavior-provided that it in accord with correct behavior, the person has knowledge and the will to act on this knowledge.

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Fetal Pain

Human fetus, age unknown

Image via Wikipedia

The state of Nebraska has added a (seemingly) new phrase to the abortion debate, namely “fetal pain.” The gist of the view is that abortions after twenty weeks should not be allowed on the grounds that the fetus might feel what is happening to it.

While it is not known exactly when a fetus can feel pain, the Journal of the American Medical Association asserts that it is unlikely that the fetus feels pain prior to twenty eight weeks. The question of when a fetus has sufficient neurological development that would allow it to experience pain would certainly seem to be an empirical matter. Of course, the situation can be made more complicated by bringing in metaphysical concerns about when the fetus has a mind that can actually experience pain and suffer from such pain (there might be an important distinction between feeling pain and suffering from pain).

Determining when the fetus can feel and suffer from such pain does seem important. After all, many moral arguments are based on the capacity of beings to experience pain. For example, stock arguments in the moral debate over the treatment of animals rest on the fact that many of the ways we treat animals (such as how we raise them as food) causes them pain and suffering.

If the pain and suffering of animals matters morally, then it would certainly seem that the pain and suffering of fetuses would also matter morally. In fact, many of the arguments for not harming or mistreating animals based on their capacity to feel pain could be modified slightly to serve as arguments against harming fetuses that can feel pain.

Of course, this means that objections raised against pain/suffering based arguments in the case of animals could often be modified for use against the pain/suffering based arguments regarding fetuses.

On a logically irrelevant note, this could mean that folks who are pro-choice but against animal suffering might find their own arguments against mistreating animals re-purposed to argue against abortions. Likewise, folks who are anti-abortion but argue for the moral acceptability of (mis)using animals might find their arguments for allowing animal suffering to be re-purposed and used against their anti-abortion views.

Getting back to the main discussion , it does seem that pain and suffering are morally relevant. Intuitively, this makes sense. To steal an approach from Hume, simply think of your own pain and suffering and see if you can regard these as good things. It is also easy enough to take advantage of numerous existing arguments for pain and suffering having negative moral value (Mill is the obvious choice here). Naturally, there are also good arguments against this, but it hardly seem foolish to consider that inflicting pain and suffering tends to be morally wrong.

If this is granted, then abortions that cause pain and suffering to the fetus would certainly seem to have a morally negative element well worth considering. However, this would hardly be a morally decisive point. After all, the mere fact that something causes pain and suffering does not automatically make it wrong or unacceptable. One reason for this is that pain and suffering are typically taken as having relative rather than absolute weight. In other words, pain and suffering on the part of one party is usually weighed against positive value or against the pain and suffering of another party. For example, when arguing about animal testing in the context of medicine, the pain of the animals is typically matched against the gain to be had from the medicine.

In the case of abortion, the pain and suffering of the fetus would be weighed against other factors, such as the pain and suffering of the woman. This is, of course, old moral ground that has been debated extensively. In many cases the suffering the woman (or girl) would undergo would far outweigh the pain and suffering of the fetus, thus allowing the abortion to occur. If someone argued that the fetus has an absolute right not to suffer or feel pain, then the obvious counter is to inquire why the same would not apply to the woman as well and why such a clash between absolutes should be settled in favor of the fetus. After all, the burden of proof would seem to rest on those who claim an unborn and unfinished being has a greater moral status than a person.

I suspect that the main result of the introduction of “fetal pain” into the legal battle will not be a significant change in the ethical debate. Rather, the main impact will be that a (seemingly) new rhetorical tool (or weapon, depending on your view) is now available.

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Debating Meat VI: Future Meat

Manga_meat(マンガ肉)

When I was a graduate student at Ohio State, one of the professors related  a story about his discussion with a German philosopher. The discussion was about the ethics of eating meat and the German philosophy said that he had the perfect solution: science would give us headless cows that did not suffer.

Interestingly enough, while we have yet to make headless cows (aside from the old way-decapitating them), scientists have made considerable advances in the field of artificial meat. This idea, long a staple in science fiction, is fairly straightforward: animal tissue is grown in/on a suitable medium and then harvested as meat. Cook it up, eat it up, artificial yum.

Such artificial meat does nicely bypass many of the ethical concerns that real meat creates. After all, such meat does not suffer or feel pain (in any meaningful sense). Thus, all the arguments based on suffering and pain are vanquished.

A concern that does remain is the matter of killing. Technically, such tissue is living and the process of becoming food will kill it. However, the tissue does not seem to have a life in a meaningful sense that grants it moral significance. After all, it is just tissue and killing tissue is not the same thing as taking a life. For example, if I burn the roof of my mouth by drinking (too) hot chocolate, I am not committing a form of limited suicide. Likewise, if I kill a slab of artificial meat for dinner, I am not killing a living creature-just stopping cellular activity.

That said, it could be argued that the artificial meat has life and hence killing it would still be morally significant. Even if this is granted, killing such meat would seem to be even less significant than killing a plant and hence it would be thus morally superior to vegetarianism in this aspect.

Another concern that remains is the matter of health. After all, if artificial meat is unhealthy to eat (as some argue is the case for real meat) then it could be just as wrong to eat the artificial meat as real meat. Then again, perhaps this would be a health issue and not a moral issue at all. Also, artificial meat could also be engineered to be healthier.

Yet another concern is that creating artificial meat will be resource intensive and hence suffer from the same problem as real meat in this regard. Using up resources to make artificial meat when the same resources could be used to feed more people would seem to be morally questionable and wasteful (just as the case for real meat). Why not, some might say, use those resources to create hydroponic crops that would also create oxygen and absorb carbon?

A final concern worth considering is, of course, the ethics of making such artificial meat. Not surprisingly, the idea of creating animal tissue as product to be grown in this manner strikes some as morally questionable. The natural reply to this is that creating such meat is less bad that using animals as food.

In my own case, I would probably eat artificial meat if it were safe, healthy and tasty. Like many people, I really like the taste of meat. However, I also have concerns about the ethics of eating animals and would prefer to not have my enjoyment rest on the suffering of other beings. Like most folks, I already consume artificial foods and food ingredients, so artificial meat would actually not be that radical at all.

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