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Category: Humans

Free Insight
One of my resolutions this year is to try to know my own limits. I haven’t got the time to do everything, and I need to admit that to myself. Especially now, with the design of my perpetual motion machine nearing completion.

I’ll still have time for these little essays, of course, as long I don’t let them get out of hand. Sometimes a topic will come along, however, that is too broad, too deep, and too hairy to take on in such a small space.

Take calves, for instance. No, not young cows — the rear portion of the lower leg. It is my opinion that this body part has too long been neglected by science, the arts, and yes, philosophy. I just wish I had time to study them more deeply, but I don’t. My only hope is that others will step forward to do this important work.

Did you know that we are the only creatures that have calves? Chimps, our nearest cousins, have only the scrawniest of lower legs. Other bipedal animals, such as kangaroos and birds, have a whole different style of walking, one that does not require a shapely, powerful muscle on the lower limb. Some quadrupeds, such as the elephant and the hippo, certainly have sturdy legs all around, but none has the signature muscular protrusion seen on most humans. Am I the only one whose sense of wonder is piqued by this oddity?

It has been argued, furthermore, that it is not language that separates us from the lower beasts, nor our capacity for reflection, nor even our opposing thumbs — but rather our calves. Surely there is some grant money out there for such a hypothesis, just waiting for the right applicant.

The calf is also the most polymorphous of all body parts. It comes in an astounding variety shapes and sizes. At one extreme are the large, bulging calves sometimes seen on husky folk. These have no apparent connection to athleticism or strength and are clearly over-engineered for any practical use. At the other end of the calf spectrum are those slender, cone-shaped shafts that show no muscle definition at all. It’s a miracle that their owners can manage to stand erect. How is it that such limbs can belong to members of the same species? I implore my fellow scholars — this mystery cries out for research!

Calves, it should be noted, are as individual as fingerprints or faces. There is obviously a place, then, for calf recognition software in our crime-fighting arsenal — and a chance to strike it rich if you can come up with the appropriate technology. I’d develop it myself if I weren’t already booked solid. Do you have the know-how and entrepreneurial spirit?

One might even dare to say that the calf is a lens through which humanity itself — our physiology, our history, our destiny — could be viewed. My cursory review of the literature, however, has found surprisingly little serious thought on this idea. This is a shameful state of affairs, to be sure, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for some young philosopher to till this field’s fertile soil with the Slump-jump plow of his intellect. At the very least, I’ll bet people would pay to see that.

I hope that someone will pursue these challenges. I know my limits, and I cannot. And even if I am able to finish my perpetual motion machine, once I get it started … well, you see how it is.

All that I have time for now is to write this seed of an essay and hope that it finds an open mind in which to sprout, grow, and bear the fruit that we can all eat. How about yours?
Dream On
I had a great dream last night. In it, I saved the world.

It was a particularly vivid dream, full of color and action and violent emotion. It was nighttime, and people were everywhere in the streets, running, shouting, and wreaking havoc. It was chaos, like most dreams.

Then I thought, this is all just stupid. So I shouted in a clear voice, "We don't need stupid!"

Those around me seemed to take notice, so I shouted it even louder. "We don't need stupid!" Others took up the chant, and it spread steadily through the crowd. Soon, the chaos subsided, but the chant went on, ringing out like a bell, again and again. The dawn came, and there was peace and growing enlightenment upon the land.

I don't have enough dreams like that. Not only was the plot uncluttered with meaningless conflicts, it had a clear message: we don't need stupid, and every one of us is already down with that. If we can all accept that basic principle, even without agreeing on what is stupid, then there is hope - even outside our dreams.

As I sit here now, though, in the light of a real dawn, I wonder why my dream did not come true long ago. If we are in agreement about stupid, why does it still hang like a great megalith around our necks? It's as if we cling to it for security, and the closer we hold it, the harder it is to see it for what it is.

Even so, I still believe in my dream. We don't need stupid, and we've got to call it when we see it. It will take at least one more dream to save the world, though. Maybe tomorrow night I'll dream about brutal honesty.
Open Seating
I was at a hotel recently where the toilet seats flapped down on their own. In order to pee, you had to hold the seat fast against the tank or risk urinatus interruptus.

As many men have, I've given in to women's demands to leave the seat down - in theory if not in practice. Though the rationale for such gentlemanly behavior might be debatable under certain circumstances, I find that the debate itself can lead to hard feelings all around.

I hope that the seats at the Hotel St. George flapped down not by design but through some accident of installation. I would hate to think that Ramon Asensio, CEO of Roca Bathroom Products, had decided that the seats down edict should become mandatory. Such an intrusion of corporate power into the War Between the Sexes would certainly lead to more hard feelings than a mere debate.

Some men (not me, I should stress) might be so affronted by this shift in the balance of power that they would be tempted to simply leave the seat down when peeing. This dangerous escalation would require much more care and self-control than just remembering to put that flapper down.

I hope we don't go there (if you know what I mean). After all, everyone has to sit down sometimes.
Never Mind
Let me declare right off that I have nothing against labor saving devices. I like having my labor saved as much as the next person. I have resolved, however, that my affection for these tools will not blind me to their hidden costs.

A hammer, for instance, can really speed up the process of driving nails — especially if you’ve been using a big rock. A hammer will cost you a few dollars, but the hidden cost of the hammer is its weakening effect on our rock-wielding skills. If you put me into a home-building contest against some prehistoric carpenter and limit us to using only his tools, then Ugg is going to win the hut-off every time.

Now, you might suggest that pounding nails with a rock is not really such a valuable skill to lose, and you might be right. Even if civilization somehow lurches backward a couple of steps, there will still be plenty of hammers around for neo-Neolithic builders to use. Things would really have to turn sour before humans would need to re-acquire their stone tool expertise.

These issues might not be so clear-cut, however, if the tools in question are the home computer and the World Wide Web. The kinds of labor these devices save are of a different type than pounding nails. With computers, the hidden costs come in the form of a dulled memory, a blunting of our problem-solving skills, and a general decline in cognitive abilities. Who needs a memory when you have all that data on your desktop? Why nurture your cognition if you’ve got Google? And what’s the point of problem-solving acumen if there’s an app for that?

You don’t have to be a Luddite to be a little troubled by this seeming diminution of our powers. You can love computers and still be alarmed by their effect on us. You might wonder, for instance, does our reliance on these tools portend a decline for our species? Does our dependence on them make us vulnerable to sudden societal changes? Are we doomed?

Well, don’t worry — we have our best philosophers working on it. And so it is that Andy Clark and David Chalmers have stepped forward with the concept of The Extended Mind. According to them, we should not view these digital wonders as tools at all, but rather as extensions of ourselves. Not as crutches for our minds but as parts of them.

Under this theory, the horizon of our consciousness and control extends to the furthest reach of our instrumentalities. The hammer becomes a part of our hand, and the smart phone becomes an upgrade for our mind. That grocery list is a part of our memory, and the web is an extension of our ever-expanding brilliance.

So we’re not getting smaller, we’re getting bigger! Also smarter, deeper, and more godlike! I like thinking of myself this way, and I want to thank Andy and Dave for providing the philosophical underpinning to do so. It’s a total rush, man.

I just wish I could have made the high keep on going. When it faded, I was still left with the question, “So what?” So what if my self spreads outward with every new invention and interplanetary probe? If the asteroid hits and civilization crumbles, I’m all the way back to a hairless, talking ape, only this time I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself.

I’m going to keep using my computer, and I will continue to surf the web. For now, I am willing to accept the trade off that may end up destroying my mind. This bargain did, after all, save me the labor of researching Andy and Dave’s work the old fashioned way by getting me there with just the touch of a button. Which gave me the time I needed to catch up on Miley Cyrus’ latest escapades. I’ll take that deal any day.

Besides, if I ever change my mind, I have a big rock outside and I still know how to use it.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon