Deo-digital existentialism

As I locked up last night I noticed some bright planet or ‘plane and was then struck by the incredibly bright white moon; I stood outside the back door for a bit gazing at the perfectly cloudless sky (first time all day!)

As I brought the milk in just now, I was again struck by the sight of the bright moon (albeit through a clouded sky), this time outside the front door. For a tiniest instant there was the thought “What’s that doing there?  It should be out the back” and I was yet again struck by the awesome majestic mathematical mechanical wonder that is the Universe.  It keeps going about its business with no regard to us or our plans, silently turning and spinning.

I unlocked the back door and there is a glorious orange red glow at the horizon, the pre-dawn heralding both the otherwise unseen Sun and a ‘shepherd’s warning’.  I was quite inspired by the contrast of the scientifically provable inevitability of the sun rising against the folk lore weather prediction which is likely just as reliable.  I felt I had to share and post this.

There’s been an automated Windows update overnight that has rebooted the laptop.  I wonder what that has cocked up this time.  And now it says I need to reboot to complete the update, so it is not in a usable state.  The little world in my computer is a bit broken and its needs its little god, me, to restart its universe from scratch to have another go at creating a functional reality.  So I – its supposed overlord – am to be forced to bring its life to an end, power it off, then cry “Let there be light!” and restart it to allow another cycle of creativity (and cockups).

Nah, sod it. I’m going to wash up and have breakfast.

I don’t think there’s a god or God out there.  At one time I used to imagine perhaps there is, but if so, it has given up on this cock-up long ago and moved on to another attempt.

At another time it dawned on me this Universe as already been destroyed once.  It did not work out, was smashed and all that remains are the tiniest of fragments, flying apart. hence the vast emptiness of space: why create something with so little in it?  Because we are not witnessing creation but the post-destruction explosion of frustration, the result of a tantrum at another failed attempt, and we are merely the germs that have grown on one of the specks of dust.

How dare we imagine that we are the important beings in this immense vastness.  We are but nothing, the tiniest speck of life light that will flare for the tiniest instant, then go out again, most likely unnoticed by anything.  To pretend the universe revolves around us, is for us, is ours, is a ridiculous arrogance as great as the Universe itself.

All we have, all we are, is what we do.  And the only part of that which matters is that experienced by other sentient life.  The rocks don’t care and there is no god lovingly watching us and caring for us, any more than we care for a fungal spore on a rotting apple core in the bin.  Less so.

All that matters is how we treat one another.  And that is how we should be – and generally are – judged.  Can’t we please just try to be nice to one another, and to try to think of the future?  Why can’t we have a society where those are the values?  Other than “By killing everyone who disagrees with me”, of course.  That hasn’t worked for over 8,000 years and has been the cause of most of the harm, so don’t try peddling those second-hand lies to me.  Because if we don’t work that out, then we are indeed filth that belongs in the dustbin of eternity.  And the only thing that stops me believing that totally, is hope.

Better go and reboot the laptop.  And hope it saves my tabs and settings and works properly this time.

First Level 3 module chosen

After my experience this past academic year, there is no way I am doing more than 60 credits at once at Level 3, that is, full-time study while working.  The year saved is not worth the stress, the loss of value-for-money from skipping material, the lost opportunity from not having time to read around the subject nor the impact on the grade.  And at Open University Level 3, it’s all about the grade since that is most of the final grade weighting.

I was going to do A333 Key questions in philosophy but my experience of A222 Exploring philosophy has put me off.  It was not what I thought it would be.

I had also planned to do DD301 Crime and justice as it includes ‘trans-national policing, international criminal courts and universal human rights‘ but those are only a minor part of the syllabus.  Also, it is intended for those going into ‘crime prevention and conflict resolution‘ (amongst other things) and my desired career is in conflict prevention.  Similar, but not the same thing.  I’ll need to have another think.

I downloaded the list of all the 107 Level 3 modules available to me and went through each module in turn, deciding afresh if I wanted or needed to do it.  A day’s work turned that into a shortlist of 12.

So many things to consider:

  • When does the module first run?  (DD317 Advanced Social Psychology should have started this October but will be October 2017 and DD311 Crime, harm and the state in October 2019 which is one year too late for me to do it.)
  • When does the module cease to be available?
  • 30 credits or 60 credits?
  • Does it have an exam?
  • Is there team work?  (No thank you.  I’ve carried others before, and discovered you don’t get any thanks for doing so.  A shame, as that has put me off S382 Astrophysics which I really fancied.)
  • Will it help my career?
  • I only have 120 credits left (or 150 if I’m devious and willing to add another year by doing 30, then 60 then 60).
  • Which 60 credits I want locked into the 300 credits that make up the open (non-honours) component.  (What a weird rule.)
  • Whether I want a name degree (that was a realistic option until A222 put me off philosophy).
  • Will I enjoy it?  (I can’t excel at something I do not enjoy.)
  • Ought I to do it for my career?  (Peace Studies.)
  • Will I learn something useful?

I really fancy S350 Evaluating contemporary science as it would be interesting, challenging and probably very useful to me.  One is expected to research, produce and present a scientific paper as practice for being a real scientist!  I could do something on sensor reliability in unmanned ground vehicles (or autonomous fighting machines, multi-function utility vehicle, warbots, kill-bots, autonomous drones, call ’em what you will) or the environmental impact of war in an oil-producing region.

But, it is 30 credits and I have talked myself out of the other 30 credit modules.  I’ll re-consider it this time next year.

I think I have settled on which one to do next, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, mostly because it will look relevant on a Master’s Degree application and because it ought to be relatively easy for me.  I’ve been informally studying war and how & why it happens for decades, so those parts ought not to be too alien.  However, although the title sounds relevant, I’m not terribly interested in war in history as a subject of study because that has changed nothing.  My interest is evidence-based peace process research.  But, I shall use it as a corridor of doorways to other paths to study.

Risk: what will be new to me is that it is a history module and I’ve never done one of those.  I wonder what new skills and methods I will need for that.

I’ve bought and downloaded the A327 exam paper for 2015 and it asks for “Write a commentary on the following primary source extract…” but I do not know what a ‘commentary’ looks like.  It also says “Answer the following thematic question” but what is a thematic question and what is special about how one answers one?

I have asked those queries on the Arts & Humanities forum and I hope somebody understands.  I should probably ask it on the Open Degree forum – the polymathic folk there might understand my concern better.

Meanwhile I can do advance reading by getting the set book and by going through the OpenLearn material that has been produced based on this very module.

What is the point of academic philosophy?

I have been struggling with my philosophy module all year, mostly because I cannot see how it applies to real life.  It has contained dualism (the mind is not a physical thing), arguments for ‘the self’ that do not consider sociology or psychology and, to my utter incredulity, intelligent design (FFS!).

On talking to a different tutor last weekend, it was explained that modern teaching of philosophy in the UK does not teach one philosophical thinking, it teaches one philosophical methods and tools.  Hence we have had to study 16th and 17th century texts that are clearly utterly irrelevant today.  They are contrived arguments produced by withholding modern thinking and results of scientific research to produce ways of writing essays.  Sadly, in so doing, they are also teaching some of their students to believe utter bollocks.

My mind-set is that of a practitioner, not an academic, and I do not enjoy studying a pointless subject for the sake of studying it.  If it cannot be applied to real life then it is a waste of time, energy and neurones.

So I have been wondering why it is taught this way.

A common accusation aimed at the priesthood of just about any significant religion, anywhere, at any time, has been of being very conservative, advising the little people to support the status quo, pay their taxes, respect their betters and be glad their suffering will be compensated in the next life.  Meanwhile, the little people are assured the rich and powerful will suffer for their comforts.

But why aren’t philosophers challenging the status quo?  “Isn’t that what they are for?” I thought.  What I am seeing is more like the behaviour of this stereotypical compliant priesthood, telling the little people how to behave.  Then as I was typing up my notes on political philosophy and the arguments for political obligation, a little light came on.  There are shed-loads of reasons provided for why we should adhere to the law and fulfil our political obligations and scant few for why we should not.  Why is this?  It seems this goes back to Socrates who was sentenced to death 2,500 years ago for subverting the state.  He had the chance to not be executed but instead we get a long treatise from him on why he should allow himself to be executed by the state, in a particularly ghastly way, for a variety of reasons.  He is trotted out time and time again – a lesson to young wannabe world-changers: “This will be your fate if you do not comply!

How many academic philosophers since then have stood up to the state?

I think the purpose of philosophy as it is taught might just be to maintain the status quo of the paymasters who pay for the establishments in which the teaching is done.  It is just one huge “busy work” subject, of negative worth to society.  There to prevent students rioting on the streets, chucking petrol bombs at the Police, in protest at the behaviour of the government of the day.

As far as I have seen in this module, philosophy is not about teaching you to think and change the world, it is how to stick your head up some dead bloke’s arse and comment on whether he should have kept that second packet of crisps to himself or shared them out.

As it is taught, philosophy is a pointless dead subject that just serves to maintain the status quo and convert otherwise activist students into confused compliant citizens.

Our tutor said, at the start of the year, he has students who drop the subject early because “This is not what I wanted, it’s just telling me what to think“.  They were right to do so.  I have learned nothing of any practical use.  What a waste.