Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

On the Origin of Intelligence

Quite often, in recent months, I have found myself caught in the middle of heated debates between proponents of special human creation, on the one hand, and astronomical optimists, on the other, in regards to the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Proponents of special human creation quite often argue that human consciousness and intelligence could not possibly have arisen naturally, that it is impossible for such things to be properties of solely physical processes, and that they are therefore justified in claiming that it is entirely inconceivable that intelligent extraterrestrial life could exist in the universe. You can find this view very commonly espoused by Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, and Intelligent Design proponents, alike (for example, check out this recent article by noted Young Earther, Ken Ham). On the opposite side of the fence, you’ll quite frequently hear both amateur and professional astronomy enthusiasts proclaiming that the physical cosmos is so inordinately vast that it is absolutely inconceivable that intelligent extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist in the universe. Such advocates often spout off statistics regarding the number of stars in the observable universe, facts about the abundance of the primary chemical building-blocks of life, and various iterations of the Drake Equation.

Almost invariably, I find myself getting yelled at by both sides of these arguments, because I disagree with both of their positions.

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The Elements of Geometry

Some time ago, I wrote about Alexandria, the most important city in history, briefly discussing the lives of just 17 of the men and women that made it so. Prime to that list, both in sequence and in importance, was Euclid of Alexandria, a personal hero of mine who I consider to be one of the most inspirational and influential people in all of human history. We know next to nothing about Euclid’s life– we do not know where or when he was born, where or when he died, and extremely little about the time between those events. We know that he lived in Alexandria at roughly the same time as Ptolemy I, circa 300 BCE, and we know that he wrote prolifically about mathematics. Yet, even with so very little information as this, I would strongly argue that Euclid contributed far more to the world than did much more well-known figures like the great historian, Herodotus; or the conquering emperor, Julius Caesar; or even the revolutionary preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. What could Euclid have possibly done that outshines these other, great men? Euclid of Alexandria wrote the Elements.

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Let no man glory in the greatness of his mind

Let no man glory in the greatness of his mind,
but rather keep watch o’er his wits.
Cautious and silent let him enter a dwelling;
to the heedful comes seldom harm,
for none can find a more faithful friend
than the wealth of mother wit

Hávamál 6

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