The Story of Civilization: Economic Elements – Economic Organization

“It was a great moral improvement when men ceased to kill or eat their fellowmen, and merely made them slaves.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 20.
(A slave in Louisiana or Mississipi, 1863: in spite of slavery in Brasil “being over” for longer than in the USA, I can’t find any Public Domain images. I wonder why…)

SUMMARY: Agriculture has led to property, to inequality, to slavery, to industry, to class struggle, to the State; that is, to “civilization.”

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 5: Pythagoras and the World of Numbers

“…the crucial point is the vital importance of mathematics in discovering the laws of the world, in making sense of the universe […] modern science is in part a development of this discovery of the Pythagoreans.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 5.
(The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible. How crazy is that? I bet Drake would not have come up with that idea if it weren’t for the Pythagoreans. Original source: Kevin Gill; CC BY 2.0 / Desaturated from original)

So, Parmenides created a problem. The world was made of one single stuff but it appeared to change, while Logic asserted that was impossible. How to reconcile this in one single world? Well, you don’t. There are two worlds: the “world of appearances” here below, always changing and apprehended by the senses; the “real world” high above, immutable and hidden. And the real one, believe it or not, is made of numbers.

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O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Definitions and Kant’s Analytic-Synthetic Mess

“As an aid to the conceptualizing process, men select from the total content of the concept a few characteristics; they select the ones that best condense and differentiate that content at a given stage of human development. Such a selection in no way shrinks the concept’s content; on the contrary, it presupposes the richness of the concept. It presupposes that the concept is an integration of units, including all their features.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 102-103.
(There is a lot that is wrong in Kant’s conclusion that “There must exist synthetic a priori judgements.”, but the “synthetic” part of it is due to a faulty theory of concepts, one that conflates a concept’s definition with its content.)

I don’t partake of Ayn Rand’s (and Leonard Peikoff’s) animosity toward Kant. Yet his theory makes no sense at all to me.

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A (sort of) Objectivist Comment on “Dune”

“Prophecy and prescience – How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered questions? Consider: How much is actual prediction of the ‘wave form’ (as Muad’Dib referred to his vision-image) and how much is the prophet shaping the future to fit the prophecy? What of the harmonics inherent in the act of prophecy? Does the prophet see the future or does he see a line of weakness, a fault or cleavage that he may shatter with words or decisions as a diamond-cutter shatters his gem with a blow of a knife?”
— Frank Herbert, “Dune“, page 312.
(The Kaaba. Prophecies, prophets, a mysterious black stone enshrined in a huge granitic cube. The “power of religion” is the theme of Dune. But isn’t it the theme here on Earth too?)

Disregarding the unjust competition of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Dune can arguably be considered the first “chosen one” sci-fi novel ever to appear. Luke, Neo, Aragorn, Potter, all of them owe at least some of their powers to Paul Atreides, and, of course, to Frank Herbert. But what really caught my attention right from the start of the book was Herbert’s (sort of) Objectivist tendencies. If I had to pick one single word to represent Objectivism, that word would be “reason”. If I had to pick one for Dune, it would also be… — OK, it would be “sandworms” — but the next choice would be “reason”, as well.

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O.P.A.R. – Chapter 3: Concept-Formation

“The experiment was an attempt to discover the ability of birds to deal with numbers. When crows were gathered in a clearing in some woods, one man entered the clearing and walked on into the woods. As soon as he appeared, the crows hid in the treetops; they would not come out until the man returned and left the area. Then three men entered; again the crows hid. This time only two of the men left, and the crows did not come out; they knew that one still remained. But when five men came and then four left, the crows came out, apparently confident that the danger was now over. These birds, it seems, could discriminate and deal with only three units; beyond that, the units blurred or merged in their consciousness. The crow arithmetic, in effect, would be: 1, 2, 3, many.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 105.
(The “crow epistemology”, as Ayn Rand called it informally, is the principle that underlies the fundamental utility of concepts: to integrate a group of concretes into a single mental whole — a device to achieve unit-economy.)

An animal knows only a handful of perceptual concretes, and acts on them automatically. A man, by contrast, goes beyond his observations, he generalizes and identifies natural laws, he hypothesizes causal factors, and he projects alternative courses of action and long-range consequences. Man, in sum, is a conceptual being. That’s the theory, at least; in practice, we see animals all around.

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Zeno, Ants, And How I Am Paralyzed In Life

This ant got stuck in amber. I know how she feels.
(Original source: Anders L. Damgaard; CC BY-SA 3.0 / Desaturated from original)

Parmenides was one of the great first philosophers. Ironically, for someone who preached immobility in his conclusions, he has pushed philosophy forward with his premisses. But I think of his conclusions now, when I look at my life. I wonder if the world — at least, my world — isn’t motionless, after all.

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The Story of Civilization: Economic Elements – The Foundations of Industry

“Man, said Franklin, is a ‘tool-using’ animal.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 12.
(A “knapper” from Irian Jaya, in West Papua, New Guinea: studies suggest that this kind of stone tool production skill was acquired by hominids at least 500 thousand years ago — and that also indicates the presence of some kind of language already at that time.)

SUMMARY: Beginning with the discovery of fire, man starts to build tools and produce more and more material goods and food, thus improving his living conditions. Initially, such improvement is given by the direct use of the goods; later, by the accumulation of wealth through the sale of surplus.

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The Story of Civilization: Economic Elements – From Hunting to Tillage

“The moment man begins to take thought of the morrow he passes out of the Garden of Eden into the vale of anxiety…”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 6.
(Ju/’hoansi “bushmen” in Namibia: hunter-gatherers that, until today, live the moment and survive with fifteen weekly hours of work.)

SUMMARY: The discovery of agriculture by women frees man from hunting by providing a dependable supply of food, while the domestication of animals improves his life — man learns the concept of time and, with it, meets anxiety and begins to be human.

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 4: Parmenides and the Logic of Immobility

“So [according to Parmenides] the world is simply a motionless, changeless, undifferentiated ball of tightly-packed matter. Now, needless to say, this is not the way that it appears to our senses.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 4.
(There is so much movement in the world, that it is hard to understand how Parmenides came to think there isn’t. However, there was logic behind his reasoning, and it posed a serious problem for philosophy. It took around one hundred years and Aristotle for mankind to come up with a solution.)

Heraclitus said “Change is obvious, therefore, to hell with logic.” Parmenides said, “Logic is obvious, therefore, to hell with change.” Still using Peikoff’s own words, Parmenides’ philosophy can be summarized by the principle “What is, is, and what is not, is not, and what is not can neither be, nor be thought about.” Hard to deny that logic.

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O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Epistemological Evasion

“The drifter does not integrate his mental contents; the evader disintegrates them, by struggling to disconnect a given item from everything that would give it clarity or significance in his own mind. In the one case, the individual is immersed in fog by default; he chooses not to raise his level of awareness. In the other case, he expends energy to create a fog; he lowers his level of awareness.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 61.
(“The Fog Warning”, by Winslow Homer, 1885, depicts a fisherman spotting his mother ship on the horizon, ahead of ominous clouds approaching. Like him, we must work hard to achieve security; all it takes is that we do nothing to be swallowed up by the fog of evasion.)

Man’s distinct capacity is his conceptual faculty, the ability to focus, integrate, think. But all that depends on his volition. He may, instead, let himself “go out of focus, relax his concentration, drop his purpose, and lapse into a state of blur and drift”. That’s evasion, and as far as I know, everybody does it — routinely — with less or greater frequency. I fit into the second group.

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