Print Story Emotional rescue
By TheophileEscargot (Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 11:23:11 PM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions". Reading: "Tales from Ovid". From the Vaults. Web.

Latest TTC course was Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions by Robert C. Solomon. Pretty good course. Mostly concentrates on the philosophy of emotions. but with a first degree in molecular biology, Solomon's scientifically aware too, and plays the philosophy off against psychology, neuroscience and biology. Mentions sociobiology and evolutionary psychology too, but is gently disparaging towards them.

The course isn't really much to do with the "emotional intelligence" self-help stuff, which is all about managing your emotions intelligently. Instead, Solomon sees emotions as an intrinsic part of consciousness and intelligence. He separates emotions from mere feelings (like a headache): emotions generally have an object, and generally produce some kind of tendency to action. As such, he sees emotions as the part of our mind that motivate us and enable us to reach decisions.

He manages to be fairly convincing about it, though he seems to stretch things occasionally, sometimes seeming to imply that thought is an action. I have a lot of time for philosophers who can handle science too, for instance this bit from the course guide:

The contemporary neurologist Tony Damasio has shown both Hume and Kant to be wrong. He argues that, even on the basic neurological level, emotions and reason (or, more properly, emotions and reasoning) are not antithetical.

1. In working with patients who have had damage to parts of the brain that control emotions, Damasio has found that, even though their intellectual or cognitive capacities are intact, they have difficulty making decisions. Why? Simply put, because they do not care; they do not have a sense of the salience of different options.

One thing briefly touched on that interested me was Adam Smith's moral philosophy. Rather than elevating selfishness to a virtue in the manner of, say, the Adam Smith Institute; Smith didn't consider selfishness to be a virtue. Like many contemporaries, he thought of sympathy as a high virtue. As such, he considered a free market economy to be conducive to this virtue, since to make your living you must constantly think about what your customers want; what their desires are and how to fulfil them. From the course notes:

Yet a number of illustrious philosophers, including David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the great economist Adam Smith, championed what they called sympathy as a natural "moral sentiment." In their view, sympathy is essentially the same as what we call compassion and provides, they argue, the basis of ethics. Their thesis is that we are not just selfish creatures, but we are also compassionate and sympathetic with others. But sympathy is ambiguous, ranging from feeling sorry for another person to sharing his or her feelings. Whether sympathy and empathy are innate or learned behavior remains open to question, but they are essential elements in capitalism. Contrary to common misperception, Adam Smith was hardly an apostle of selfishness. As he observed, the market pays attention to the needs and preferences of its customers as a matter of necessity...

In a capitalist market, you try to find customers by looking at other people and asking what they want. How do they really feel? Thus, Adam Smith did not praise selfishness, despite assertions to the contrary. Certainly at its best, he argued, capitalism is based on sympathy and empathy.

Overall, certainly worth a listen if you're interested in the philosophy of emotion: not sure it would be compelling if you're not. This guy's done quite a lot of work in this field: also interesting to see how he came to his conclusions.

Coming Soon
Next up is Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition.

What I'm Reading
Inspired by the Classical Mythology course, read Tales From Ovid. Free-verse poetry. It's Ted Hughes take on selected myths from the classical Roman author. It's neither a direct translation nor a retelling of the stories: he mixes and matches some of the existing metaphors and similes with his own.

Generally works very well, though I did find the modern similes occasionally jarring. Oddly I can cope with the obvious modernisms like atomic blasts and photons; but when he talks about magnets and corn, I find myself distractedly wondering if they could somehow be in the original.

Can't tell of course, but have a suspicion that the style is very different to the Latin. Ovid wrote in the long, even lines of dactylic hexameter, and I suspect in a mannered style. Hughes verse seems much more Anglo-Saxon: short lines, punchy direct words, seems very terse and direct.

Pretty easy to read, even in long sittings: didn't find it nearly as exhausting as his Crow poems. I think it helps that there are strong storylines, even if the gods come across as terrifyingly cruel and arbitrary.

Well worth reading.

From the music-duel in "Midas":

Apollo was serious.
His illustrious hair burst
From under a wreath of laurel picked
Only moments ago on Parnassus.
The fringe of his cloak of Tyrian purple
Was all that touched the earth.
In his left hand the lyre
Was a model, in magical code
Of the earth and the heavens --
Ivory of narwhal and elephant,
Diamonds from the interior of stars.
In his right hand he held
The plectrum that could touch
Every wavelength in the Universe
Singly or simultaneously
Even his posture
Was like a tone -- like a tuning fork,
Vibrant, alerting the whole earth,
Bringing heaven down to listen.

Then the plectrum moved and Tmolus,
After the first chords,
Seemed to be about to decompose
Among the harmonics.
He pulled himself together -- but it was no use
He was helpless
As the music dissolved him and poured him
Through the snakes and ladders
Of the creation and decreation
Of the elements,
And finally, bringing the sea-horizon
To an edge clean as a knife
Restored him to his shaggy, crumpled self.
From "Echo and Narcissus":
The moment Echo saw Narcissus
She was in love. She followed him
Like a starving wolf
Following a stag too strong to be tackled.
And like a cat in winter at a fire
She could not edge close enough
To what singed her, and would burn her.
She almost burst
With longing to call out to him and somehow
Let him know what she felt.
But she had to wait
For some other to speak
So she could snatch their last words
With whatever sense they might lend her.

It so happened, Narcissus
Had strayed apart
From his companions.
He hallooed them: "Where are you?
I'm here." And Echo
Caught at the syllables as if they were precious:
"I'm here," she cried, "I'm here" and "I'm here" and "I'm here" and "I'm here."
From the vaults
Descending through the mists of time to the bygone era of January 2007, I posted a few links like this about the Great Moderation, the unprecedented 15-year period of economic growth and stability.

I'm not sure that the Great Moderation has come to an end. There have been recessions in that period, it's just that they were relatively minor flattened-out ones. We're not even in an actual recession yet at all, though it seems quite possible. Or it could be that the Great Moderation has changed the game enough that instead of a relatively brief period of negative growth, we'll have a longer period of near-zero growth.

I notice that Gordon Brown's chancellorship is getting criticized in retrospect for spending too much in a boom period, rather than drawing down the deficit. However a lot of people (and right-wing economists in particular) were arguing at that time that we weren't in a boom phase at all. Instead we were in a wonderful new era where monetarist central bankers and internet-enabled short supply chains meant that recessions were a thing of the past.

The Great Moderation also got mentioned here in the context of inequality.

The Great Moderation has occurred across the developed world, and so is not specifically due to Blair/Brown. It's the Great Moderation that has caused the increase in inequality, going disproportionately to shareholders and star employees in growth industries, rather than average wage-earners and the unemployed.

Blair/Brown policies have been redistributive: increasing taxation and social spending. They just have not been sufficiently redistributive to compensate for the Great Moderation.

So if there is a recession, it will be interesting to see if it reduces inequality; as a decrease in the value of house prices and investments should affect the rich more than the poor.

Nice Flash game: Hedgehog Launch.

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The Great Movideration by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 01:12:52 AM EST
Seems to have been an outbreak of poetry here at the moment. All to to the good I'd say.

On the great moderation - though a few right wing economists might have said we were set up for the duration its more something I associate with right wing politicians like Peter Costello. He happily lorded it over the opposition in question time while claiming to have "slain the inflation dragon", for instance. Any particular commentators you have in mind here?

I certainly remember editorials in the Economist and The Times in 2002-04 questioning the wisdom of accumulating quite so much public debt in a boom, using the off balance sheet mechanism of PPP. Its a shame they weren't quite so observant with Enron ...

At any rate I would guess this is the start of a serious UK and US recession, and like you say it will cause a serious correction in asset inequality. Property price collapses like this are probably the best chance to improve intergenerational equity, ie young people being able to buy houses, without major policy effort.

Sympathetic capitalism appeals to me, Pangloss or no.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Well by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 01:37:24 AM EST
The linked Times article is what I had in mind. I don't think they ever went so far as to call for lower spending. But I think if you actually cared about inequality and social justice, and took the permanence of the Great Moderation seriously, Brown's spending would look either reasonable or too low.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Even that article by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #5 Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 05:53:50 AM EST
Which I am pretty sure I read at the time, leaves a lot to the reader. I read it as "we are in a time of extraordinary stability and prosperity, brought on by low inflation and enlightened use of economic theory [but this too shall pass]". Rereading it now, the part in square brackets isn't there - you could equally and perhaps more validly read it as "[so as long as we keep trusting capitalism we're set up for the duration. Yay!]".

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Adam Smith is one of my favorite ethicists by lm (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 03:25:13 AM EST
His theory presented in The Theory of Moral Sentiment is very compelling and explains quite a bit of human nature. My only complaint is that, from what I recall, it seems more a descriptive work of psychology than a philosophical theory. Of course, it's been quite some time since I've read it so I may not be remembering some key bits. But if memory serves correctly, he doesn't offer an argument as to what morality is so much as he offers a descriptive account of how the human mind works.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Emotion and Reason by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 05:49:46 AM EST
I very much enjoyed Damasio's own book on the subject.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
I really like Ted Hughes by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 12:07:35 AM EST
Simple language conveying complex ideas. "Crow" is brilliant and they always have a few copies in second-hand bookshops.

It's political correctness gone mad!

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