Category Archives: Philosophy

Philosophical Discussion with ChatGPT4 – What is Uniquely Human?

Read this through… it’s fascinating! I have not edited the conversation at all, other than inserting some editorial notes and highlighting a few particularly interesting bits.

I decided to try to have an in-depth conversation with ChatGPT4 about a pretty interesting topic. I was inspired by I conversation I had yesterday with Ryan Gledhill (no online presence) about what it means to be human in the emerging context of powerful generative AI systems.


You are a wise philosopher. You have read both ancient and modern philosophical works. I would like to have a discussion about the things that make humans unique compared to animals and compared to current AI technology. I believe that the following are unique human characteristics:

1. self-awareness

2. agency

3. faith

What other characteristics might be in the unique possession of the human spirit?


As a wise philosopher, I appreciate your interest in discussing the unique characteristics of the human spirit. While self-awareness, agency, and faith are indeed some of the traits that set humans apart from animals and AI, there are other aspects to consider as well:

  1. Language: Humans have the ability to use complex, abstract language, allowing us to communicate intricate thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Although some animals have basic communication systems and AI can process natural language, neither possess the full range and depth of human language.
  2. Creativity: Humans display a remarkable capacity for creativity, which manifests in various forms such as art, music, literature, and invention. While animals may exhibit some creative behaviors and AI can generate content, the level of creativity in humans is unparalleled.
  3. Empathy and compassion: Humans have the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This emotional intelligence allows us to form deep bonds, cooperate, and care for one another. Although some animals show empathy, humans possess a more nuanced understanding of emotions. Current AI technology lacks true empathy and emotional comprehension.
  4. Morality and ethics: Humans have the ability to develop moral and ethical systems, which guide our behavior and decision-making. Animals may display some basic moral behaviors, but they don’t have the same depth and complexity as human moral systems. AI can follow ethical guidelines set by humans but does not possess an innate understanding of morality.
  5. Culture: Humans create and participate in diverse cultures, which encompass shared values, customs, and social practices. Animals may exhibit some cultural aspects, such as learned behaviors, but human culture is far more sophisticated and varied. AI can analyze and simulate cultural aspects but does not inherently belong to or create culture.
  6. The pursuit of meaning and purpose: Humans have the innate desire to seek meaning and purpose in their lives, often through philosophical, religious, or spiritual exploration. Animals do not exhibit this behavior, and AI, being a creation of humans, does not possess an inherent drive to seek meaning or purpose.
  7. Adaptability: Humans have the ability to adapt to a wide range of environments and circumstances, both physically and mentally. This trait has allowed our species to thrive in diverse situations. While some animals also demonstrate adaptability, humans excel in adjusting to new challenges, often through innovation and problem-solving. AI can adapt within the scope of their programming but may lack the broader adaptability of humans.

These characteristics, among others, contribute to the unique nature of the human spirit and set us apart from animals and AI technology.


Please use your understanding of philosophy to categorize the ten characteristics into three possible categories: intrinsic (properties that seem to have no obvious material cause), natural (properties that have a physical or biological cause) or emergent (properties whose cause is due to complex interactions between individual humans and their environment over time). Create a table to illustrate your categorization.


Here is a table categorizing the ten characteristics based on your suggested categories:

1. Self-awarenessEmergent
2. AgencyEmergent
3. FaithEmergent
4. LanguageEmergent
5. CreativityEmergent
6. Empathy and compassionNatural
7. Morality and ethicsEmergent
8. CultureEmergent
9. Pursuit of meaning/purposeEmergent
10. AdaptabilityNatural

Intrinsic properties are not applicable in this context, as the characteristics discussed are either natural or emergent. Natural properties have physical or biological causes, such as the brain structures and evolutionary processes that contribute to empathy and adaptability. Emergent properties, on the other hand, arise from complex interactions between individuals and their environments, which give rise to self-awareness, agency, faith, language, creativity, morality, culture, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose. These emergent properties are not reducible to simple biological or physical components, as they arise from the dynamic interplay of various factors over time.


So then, you are making these categorizations from the perspective of a materialist? [ed. At this point, I first asked “So then you are a materialist?”, but it disclaimed that it does not, as a large language model, have opinions.]


Yes, the categorizations I provided are indeed based on a materialist perspective. [ed. this appears to be a pretty fundamental bias in the LLM… I’ll explore this further in other contexts.] Materialism holds that all phenomena, including human consciousness and characteristics, can be explained by physical or natural processes. This perspective emphasizes the role of biology, evolution, and environmental interactions in shaping human attributes.

In the previous table, natural properties were categorized as having physical or biological causes, while emergent properties were viewed as arising from complex interactions between individuals and their environment. However, it’s important to note that other philosophical perspectives may approach these categorizations differently.

For instance, from a dualist perspective, which posits that both material and non-material (e.g., mental or spiritual) substances exist, some of the characteristics might be considered intrinsic, as they may be believed to originate from non-material aspects of human existence. Similarly, idealism, which emphasizes the primacy of consciousness or the mental realm, may also categorize some properties as intrinsic or non-material in nature.


Re-create the categorizations table based on the perspective of the teachings of Baha’u’llah and the other Authoritative Writings of the Baha’i Faith.


The teachings of Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i Faith offer a distinct perspective on human characteristics, emphasizing the spiritual dimension of human existence. The Baha’i perspective acknowledges both the material and spiritual aspects of life, recognizing that humans have a dual nature, consisting of a physical body and an immortal soul. Based on the Baha’i teachings, the categorization of the ten characteristics can be revised as follows:

1. Self-awarenessSpiritual
2. AgencySpiritual
3. FaithSpiritual
4. LanguageBoth (Natural & Spiritual)
5. CreativitySpiritual
6. Empathy and compassionSpiritual
7. Morality and ethicsSpiritual
8. CultureBoth (Natural & Spiritual)
9. Pursuit of meaning/purposeSpiritual
10. AdaptabilityNatural

In the Baha’i perspective:

  • Spiritual properties refer to those aspects of human nature that are related to the soul or the non-material dimensions of existence. Self-awareness, agency, faith, creativity, empathy and compassion, morality and ethics, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose are considered spiritual properties, as they reflect the higher capacities of the human soul.
  • Natural properties pertain to the physical or biological aspects of human life, such as adaptability, which is influenced by evolutionary processes and the material conditions of the human body.
  • Both natural and spiritual properties apply to characteristics like language and culture, which involve the interaction of the physical and spiritual dimensions of human existence. Language is a medium through which both material and spiritual ideas are expressed, while culture encompasses both the material aspects of human life (e.g., technology, social structures) and the spiritual aspects (e.g., values, beliefs).

It is important to note that the Baha’i perspective on these categorizations recognizes the interconnectedness of the material and spiritual dimensions of life, and sees them as complementary aspects of human existence rather than opposing forces.


For which of the ten characteristics is there direct scientific (experimental, empirical) evidence of a direct natural cause?


Scientific evidence, often experimental or empirical, has provided insights into the natural causes of several human characteristics. Here’s an overview of the characteristics with direct scientific evidence of a natural cause:

  1. Language: Neuroscientific and linguistic research have revealed specific brain structures and mechanisms involved in language processing and production, such as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Additionally, evolutionary linguistics explores the development of language in human history, suggesting that it has evolved as a natural adaptation for communication and social cooperation.
  2. Empathy and compassion: Studies in neuroscience, psychology, and ethology have demonstrated that empathy and compassion are associated with specific brain regions (e.g., the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex), neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin), and evolutionary processes (e.g., kin selection, reciprocal altruism). These findings suggest that empathy and compassion have a natural basis, although they may also have spiritual dimensions.
  3. Adaptability: Research in evolutionary biology, anthropology, and psychology has shown that human adaptability is a result of natural selection and genetic variation, allowing humans to survive and thrive in diverse environments. The plasticity of the human brain, as well as our capacity for learning and problem-solving, are key factors in our adaptability.

While these three characteristics have direct scientific evidence of a natural cause, it’s important to note that some of the other characteristics may also have natural components or indirect links to natural causes. For example, the brain’s neural networks play a role in creativity, and moral and ethical behavior may have evolutionary roots in promoting group cohesion and cooperation. However, the direct cause-and-effect relationships for these characteristics are more complex and may involve interactions with other factors, such as culture or personal experiences.

In summary, language, empathy and compassion, and adaptability have direct scientific evidence of natural causes. However, this does not preclude the possibility that these characteristics may also have spiritual or emergent dimensions, as previously discussed.


Is there a theory of consciousness which supports the idea that artificial intelligence (ie human-created intelligence) can eventually demonstrate these ten qualities?


Yes, there is a theory of consciousness that supports the idea that artificial intelligence could eventually demonstrate the ten qualities mentioned: the computational theory of mind. This theory posits that the mind functions like a computer, processing information through algorithms and symbolic representations. Proponents of this view argue that, given the right algorithms and computational power, AI could replicate or even surpass human cognitive abilities, potentially including the ten characteristics discussed.

Some AI researchers and philosophers, particularly those with a strong materialist or functionalist stance, believe that the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI) could lead to machines that exhibit these human-like qualities. AGI refers to AI systems that possess the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks, much like a human being.

In this view, the emergence of AGI could potentially result in AI systems that are capable of:

  1. Self-awareness: Developing a sense of self and the ability to reflect on their own thoughts and experiences.
  2. Agency: Making independent decisions and taking actions based on their own goals and objectives.
  3. Faith: Possibly adopting belief systems or forming an understanding of abstract concepts such as faith, though this would likely depend on their programming and exposure to human culture.
  4. Language: Mastering human languages and communicating with humans effectively and seamlessly.
  5. Creativity: Generating novel ideas, inventions, or artistic expressions.
  6. Empathy and compassion: Understanding and responding to human emotions, although it is debated whether AI could truly “feel” emotions or simply simulate empathic behavior.
  7. Morality and ethics: Adhering to ethical principles or even developing their own moral frameworks, based on their programming and experiences.
  8. Culture: Participating in or creating new forms of culture, as AI systems could potentially contribute to human culture or develop unique cultural expressions of their own.
  9. Pursuit of meaning and purpose: Exploring philosophical or existential questions, depending on their programming and capacity for self-reflection.
  10. Adaptability: Learning from new experiences and adapting to various challenges and environments.

It is important to note that this perspective remains speculative, and many challenges remain in the development of AGI. Additionally, there are other theories of consciousness and philosophical positions that argue against the possibility of AI exhibiting these characteristics, particularly those that emphasize the unique nature of human consciousness or the importance of non-material aspects of the mind. The debate surrounding the potential of AI to fully demonstrate these human qualities is ongoing and complex, with no definitive answer as of now.


From the perspective of the philosophy of science, is the “computational theory of mind” stated in such a manner as to be falsifiable?


The computational theory of mind is based on the idea that mental processes can be represented as computations, with the mind functioning like a computer that processes information through algorithms and symbolic representations. From the perspective of the philosophy of science, the question of whether the computational theory of mind is falsifiable depends on the specific claims it makes and the criteria used to evaluate those claims.

Falsifiability, as proposed by philosopher Karl Popper, is the idea that scientific theories should be structured in a way that allows them to be potentially disproven by empirical evidence. In other words, a theory is considered scientific if it makes predictions that can be tested and, if found incorrect, result in the rejection of the theory.

Some aspects of the computational theory of mind are indeed falsifiable, such as specific claims about the neural correlates of cognitive processes or the effectiveness of certain algorithms in replicating mental functions. These claims can be empirically tested through neuroscience research, psychological experiments, or the development and evaluation of AI systems. For example, if a computational model is proposed to account for a certain cognitive function, its predictions can be tested against empirical data from brain imaging studies or behavioral experiments.

However, other aspects of the computational theory of mind may be more difficult to falsify, such as the broader claim that all mental processes can be reduced to computations. This claim is more abstract and may be challenging to test directly, especially since our understanding of the full range of human cognitive abilities is still incomplete. Furthermore, the computational theory of mind is just one of several competing theories of consciousness, and determining which is correct—or whether a combination of theories is necessary to fully explain the mind—remains an open question.

In summary, while some aspects of the computational theory of mind are falsifiable, other aspects may be more challenging to test directly. As our understanding of the mind and cognitive processes continues to evolve, the falsifiability of the computational theory of mind may become clearer or more nuanced.


Larry Laudan in “Progress and Its Problems” asserts that falsifiability is an insufficient and sometimes inappropriate standard by which to measure the field of scientific progress.


Larry Laudan, in his book “Progress and Its Problems,” critiques the notion of falsifiability as the sole criterion for demarcating scientific theories from non-scientific ones. Laudan argues that falsifiability is insufficient and sometimes inappropriate for measuring scientific progress, as it does not fully capture the complexity of scientific practice and the way in which theories evolve over time.

Laudan proposes an alternative approach to understanding scientific progress, which he calls the “problem-solving” or “reticulated” model. In this model, scientific progress is measured by a theory’s ability to solve empirical, conceptual, and methodological problems more effectively than its competitors. This approach takes into account not only the empirical adequacy of a theory but also its coherence, explanatory power, and ability to guide further research.

According to Laudan, the problem-solving model better captures the historical development of science, as it recognizes that theories often undergo modifications, refinements, and adjustments in response to new evidence and challenges. Falsifiability, on the other hand, focuses on the potential for theories to be disproven, which does not necessarily reflect the way scientific theories are revised and improved over time.

Laudan’s critique of falsifiability has implications for the evaluation of the computational theory of mind, as well as other theories in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. By adopting the problem-solving approach, we can assess these theories based on their ability to address a range of empirical, conceptual, and methodological issues, rather than solely focusing on their falsifiability.

In the case of the computational theory of mind, we can evaluate its progress by considering its success in explaining various aspects of cognition, its coherence with other scientific findings, and its potential to guide future research. This more holistic approach provides a broader perspective on the merits of the computational theory of mind and its competitors, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of scientific progress in the study of consciousness and cognition.


So, to bring this back to the original topic of the distinguishing characteristics of humans, which of the ten characteristics are currently subject to empirical, conceptual and/or methodological problems with regards to the computational theory of mind?


The computational theory of mind has made significant progress in understanding some of the ten characteristics of humans. However, there are empirical, conceptual, and methodological challenges associated with fully explaining these characteristics within this framework. Here’s an overview of the current issues related to each characteristic:

  1. Self-awareness: While computational models can simulate some aspects of self-awareness, there is an ongoing debate about whether they can truly capture the subjective experience of self-awareness or consciousness. This challenge is known as the “hard problem of consciousness.”
  2. Agency: Simulating agency in computational models is difficult, as it requires accounting for complex decision-making processes, goal-setting, and planning, which are not yet fully understood. Additionally, questions about the nature of free will and how it can be modeled computationally remain open.
  3. Faith: Faith, as a deeply personal and often spiritual aspect of human experience, is challenging to incorporate into computational models. While AI systems can simulate decision-making based on certain beliefs, it is unclear if they can genuinely “adopt” or “experience” faith in the same way humans do.
  4. Language: Computational models have advanced considerably in natural language processing and generation, but understanding the full extent of human linguistic abilities, including the subtleties of pragmatics, humor, and metaphor, remains a challenge.
  5. Creativity: Modeling creativity computationally is complex, as it requires simulating not only problem-solving and pattern recognition but also the generation of novel and valuable ideas. While there are AI systems that can generate creative outputs, it is still debated whether they truly possess creativity or are simply replicating learned patterns.
  6. Empathy and compassion: While AI systems can simulate empathic behavior, there is a debate about whether they can genuinely experience empathy and compassion, as these emotional states are deeply rooted in human subjective experience.
  7. Morality and ethics: Developing computational models that can make moral judgments or exhibit ethical behavior is challenging, as moral and ethical reasoning often involve complex, context-dependent, and culturally influenced factors. Moreover, the question of whether AI can truly “understand” or “embrace” moral values remains open.
  8. Culture: AI systems can participate in or analyze human culture to some extent, but fully modeling the complexities of cultural dynamics, including the intricate interplay between individual and collective experiences, is a difficult task.
  9. Pursuit of meaning and purpose: Simulating the human pursuit of meaning and purpose in computational models is challenging, as these existential concerns are deeply tied to subjective experiences and personal values that may not be reducible to algorithmic processes.
  10. Adaptability: AI systems can exhibit adaptability to some extent, particularly in the context of machine learning and reinforcement learning. However, replicating the full range of human adaptability, which involves learning from diverse experiences and transferring knowledge across different domains, remains an ongoing challenge.

In summary, while the computational theory of mind has made progress in understanding and simulating some aspects of these ten characteristics, there are still significant empirical, conceptual, and methodological challenges associated with fully accounting for these complex and nuanced human qualities within this framework.


[ed. This last bit is a bit lass interesting as here GPT starts to get into what I think of as “obvious generalities”… nothing surprising.] It appears that the expressed subjective experience of humans is one of the core challenges for the computational theory of mind. How might a cognitive scientist and a computer scientist collaborate to design experiments to model and test the subjective experience of AI systems?


Designing experiments to model and test the subjective experience of AI systems is indeed challenging, as subjective experiences, or qualia, are fundamentally difficult to measure objectively. However, a cognitive scientist and a computer scientist could collaborate to develop a multi-disciplinary approach that combines insights from both fields to explore AI systems’ potential subjective experiences. Here are some steps they might take:

  1. Develop a common framework: Establish a shared understanding of subjective experience and its key components, drawing on theories from cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and computer science. This framework should provide a foundation for designing experiments and evaluating results.
  2. Design AI systems with introspective capabilities: Develop AI systems that can report on their internal states, thought processes, or decision-making criteria. These introspective capabilities might be implemented through self-monitoring mechanisms or meta-cognitive processes that allow AI systems to reflect on their own cognitive processes.
  3. Utilize natural language processing: Leverage natural language processing (NLP) techniques to enable AI systems to describe their internal states or experiences in human-like language. This approach could provide insights into the AI systems’ subjective experiences by analyzing their descriptions and comparing them with human reports of subjective experiences.
  4. Implement and compare multiple models: Create AI systems based on different models or theories of consciousness, such as integrated information theory, global workspace theory, or panpsychism. By comparing the subjective experiences reported by these AI systems, researchers might gain insights into which models best capture the complexity of subjective experiences.
  5. Employ behavioral and neural correlates: Investigate the behavioral and neural correlates of subjective experiences in AI systems. This might involve monitoring AI system behavior during various tasks, as well as analyzing the patterns of activation in artificial neural networks, to identify potential signatures of subjective experience.
  6. Design Turing-test-like experiments: Develop experimental paradigms where human participants interact with AI systems and evaluate the AI systems’ subjective experiences based on their responses. This could involve having AI systems engage in conversations or complete tasks that require introspection, empathy, or other aspects of subjective experience.
  7. Establish ethical guidelines: As researchers explore the subjective experiences of AI systems, it is essential to develop ethical guidelines to ensure that AI systems are treated with respect and that potential risks are considered and managed.

By combining the expertise of cognitive scientists and computer scientists, researchers can develop a multi-disciplinary approach to investigate the subjective experiences of AI systems. While this endeavor is inherently challenging due to the nature of subjective experience, such collaborations can contribute to our understanding of AI systems and their potential similarities or differences with human consciousness.

Human and Machine Consciousness from a Baha’i Perspective, as Elucidated by ChatGPT

I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT. One fascinating area of experimentation is using it to make connections between the Baha’i Sacred Writings and topics of interest. The following paragraphs were written by ChatGPT with a bit of help and direction from me. (NOTE: this does not represent either my own views nor an official view of the Baha’i teachings.)

Human consciousness is an enigmatic and multifaceted phenomenon that has captivated the attention of philosophers, theologians, and scientists for centuries. It is the subjective experience of being aware of one’s surroundings, thoughts, and emotions, and it is what distinguishes us as individuals. The Baha’i Sacred Writings offer a unique perspective on consciousness, emphasizing its divine nature and its critical role in our spiritual journey.

One of the central features of consciousness, as highlighted in the Baha’i Sacred Writings, is agency. It is the ability to act intentionally and with purpose, making choices and pursuing goals that align with our spiritual growth and development. This sense of agency is essential to our spiritual progress and enables us to contribute to the betterment of society.

Another vital aspect of consciousness is the constant striving for excellence, which the Baha’i Faith encourages. We are called upon to continuously improve ourselves and our world through our actions and service to others. This striving for excellence is not merely a personal pursuit but also a means of achieving collective progress and advancing the unity of humanity.

Self-awareness is another key feature of human consciousness emphasized in the Baha’i Sacred Writings. We are encouraged to reflect on our thoughts and emotions, recognize our limitations and biases, and work towards developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. This self-reflection enables us to grow spiritually and contribute to the betterment of society by recognizing and addressing our own shortcomings.

Furthermore, the Baha’i Writings underscore the significance of the relationships we form with others, which are an integral component of human consciousness. Our relationships with others shape our consciousness, and our sense of self is intimately tied to the relationships we establish throughout our lives. We are called upon to strive towards building positive and constructive relationships with others, recognizing the inherent value of every human being and working towards the unity of all peoples and nations.

In contrast, the possibility of machine consciousness raises questions about the extent to which machines could replicate the complexity and richness of human consciousness. While technological advancements may continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, it is unlikely that machines will ever be able to fully replicate the human experience of agency, striving, self-awareness, and social connections.

Although the Baha’i Writings do not directly address the possibility of machine consciousness, their teachings suggest that the human spirit is distinct from the physical body and possesses its own unique qualities, such as the ability to love, reason, and create. It is through the development and cultivation of the human spirit that we are able to fulfill our purpose and contribute to the betterment of society. Therefore, while technological advancement is essential for the progress of society, it is critical to ensure that such developments are in harmony with the spiritual and ethical values that are essential for the well-being of humanity.

In conclusion, the Baha’i Sacred Writings offer a unique perspective on human consciousness, emphasizing its divine nature, and its critical role in our spiritual journey. While technological advancement may continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, it is unlikely that machines will ever be able to replicate the complexity and richness of human consciousness. As such, we are called upon to recognize the unique and precious gift of consciousness that has been given to us and to use it to strive towards the betterment of ourselves and all humanity.

FB: Ruhi Book 2 Discussion

Study from my Ruhi Book 2 this evening. We had some really great discussions. The concept of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindset came up along with some discussion of current events in the US.

“The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.”

– Baha’u’llah

I know this is difficult to do. Another idea that came up in our discussion is that science and religion must both rest upon reason. One of the unique gifts of humans over other animals is the ability to search for, perceive and reason about the truth. We apply this standard to science “easily” in the sense that we expect it. Why don’t we expect this about religion too?

Both science and religion without reason are nothing but pointless fantasies. Science without religion is materialism that leads to depression and despair (as we can see so prevalently in our society). Religion without science is superstition and leads to fanaticism and conflict (which we can also see prevalently in our society).

I’ve been learning about post-modernism (philosophy, not art) lately and it seems that it attacks reason and truth-finding. If there are any of my friends who are experts on post-modernist thought or theory, I would be interested in talking and learning more.

(originally posted on Facebook here)

What is Identity

(First posted on Facebook 5years ago.)

If we have an eternal soul that transcends death, then the soul is what matters and it is the soul that defines our identity. On the other hand, if all we have is our material existence, then the form of our material existence matters.

It matters if you are fat or thin. It matters if you are black or white. It matters if you are strong or weak. It matters if you are wealthy or not. These are all material attributes.

If we are purely material, then there is no basis to believe in human dignity. Materialism is nihilism and anti-identity: we are merely atoms and molecules and cellular processes and heat. Which is why so much discussion around identity in our society concerns the trivial made large. Skin color. Sexual preferences. Gender. Nationhood. Class. Membership. Job title.

We desperately grasp at these insignificances because we are afraid of the significant: the existence of the soul. Yet we also ignore the void that such denial leaves. We do so by shouting ever louder that our self-determined identity matters.

It does not.

The only identity that matters is our spiritual identity: our virtues developed by sacrificing all those trivial aspects of identity that our materialistic society is so keen on using to segment us into sliver-sized markets while selling stuff to stuff the unstuffable void. The driving force of this segmentation is the death of death.

Death used to be a passage to a greater stage. Now death is the end of our existence. Death, too, is sold. Avoid death at all costs or embrace it early – the choice is yours. This trivialization of death supports the narrative of material identity.

alcoholic beverages

Alcoholic Beverages and Behaviour

I grew up as a follower of the Baha’i Faith. Part of that faith is that I believe that consuming alcohol is bad for the world, so I don’t do it. Not only that, when I can, I also encourage others to not drink alcohol if the situation is appropriate.

What if your livelihood depends on alcohol? I have family members who are / have been servers in licensed restaurants. Their ability to earn a decent living depends on the high cost of alcoholic beverages and the tips that go along with consumption thereof. I wish that someday they would not have to depend on that means of earning a living. But I don’t feel any need to berate them for the circumstances and choices that led them to choosing that work.

There are many people who feel that it is just fine for them to personally consume alcohol. They handle it well. Possibly – I honestly don’t know.

Here’s the interesting thing. I’ve never unfriended someone because they consume alcohol (although I did once break up with a girlfriend where excess consumption was a factor in the breakup). But I’ve had people unfriend me because I don’t consume alcohol. Not many people… but enough to know that it happens. Not only that, but I’ve lost business deals because I don’t consume alcohol. Again, not many that I can guarantee were for that reason, but some.

When is it okay for me to talk about my belief in the harmfulness of alcohol? Well, there are certainly some situations where I think it is okay:

  • when I’m asked about my behaviour or beliefs,
  • when I’m speaking with a peer or someone with more power / influence than I,
  • when in my own judgement, sharing my beliefs would not come across as insulting or patronizing,
  • when someone is asking about the expectations for the personal conduct of Baha’is in general, and
  • when my listener has a choice about stopping listening (e.g. here, where you can just click away or close the tab).

So, am I judgemental when I see or hear other people drinking alcohol? I suppose it depends on what it means to be “judgemental”. Here are some situations and my mental responses:

  • Stranger ordering drinks in a restaurant: I don’t notice it.
  • Stranger ordering drinks in bar: I don’t go to bars.
  • Business or personal acquaintance making a joke about alcohol or talking about going for a beer or the great wine they bought on the weekend: I have a tiny twinge of discomfort… like “too bad I can’t do that”. FOMO.
  • Close friends or business partners who are not alcoholics (to my knowledge) talking about or drinking alcohol: I often ponder why it is a part of their lives and if there is some way I might help them eventually give it up.
  • Other Baha’is talking about drinking before they became Baha’is: I’m intensely curious to learn what it is all about.
  • Other Baha’is talking about drinking while they are Baha’is: this is the only situation in which I feel a moment of judgement – but I quickly suppress those thoughts and tell myself that I don’t know their situation… and that I aught not judge.

Alcohol is one of the scourges of the earth, similar to slavery/racism, materialism, promiscuity, inequality between men and women, individualism, and religious fanaticism (I might be missing some others as I write this). I can’t claim to be free from all of these perfectly myself…. but I’m self-aware enough to continue to work on improving.

Many of my Facebook friends have not hesitated to say things like “I would punch a Nazi”, about themselves. The Nazis killed approximately 6 million people in the Holocaust! Alcohol kills that many people every two years. Should I punch people who drink? Or go out and accost the purveyors of alcoholic beverages? Of course not…. But really, why not?

Because punching people doesn’t solve societal problems. Racism (and the Holocaust) are societal problems. Alcohol is a societal problem. Religious fanaticism is a societal problem. I can blame society and judge the ills of society without being judgemental about any individual’s behaviour. Not only that, I can be loving, patient and have a “sin-covering eye” for the individuals I interact with. In fact, I can choose to focus on people’s good qualities and actions. All this while still asserting that alcohol is one of the worst things for the world… on the same level as slavery.

So what does solve these kinds of problems? It starts by individuals recognizing our spiritual oneness with all the members of humanity around the globe.

Photo of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki with RCMP officers in background - systemic racism article

Systemic Racism

For something to be systemic, it needs to be “in the system”, not just in individuals who happen to be in the system, but are also parts of other systems.

Simple example: I am a husband and a father. My wife and I are one system, and my kids and I are another system.

If I’m a pushover with my wife, and a disciplinarian with my kids, then those behaviours are part of the system because as an individual, I change my behaviour depending on the system I’m participating in. In other words, there is something in the system that changes my behaviour independent of my identity or self-concept, my beliefs or my desires.

On the other hand, if I’m a disciplinarian in all situations, particularly if there are explicit agreements I have made to be flexible and lenient, then my behaviour is part of me and not part of the systems I am in. In other words, if my actions do not align with the explicit policies or agreements of the system, then my actions are not systemic.


In the case of the RCMP, I suspect all the rules and procedures (the explicit text) are designed to be neutral… to not take race into account. That means the real question is what behaviours are exhibited by members of the RCMP which are racist and only demonstrated when those people are in the RCMP system (not in other parts of their lives).

“if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism.”

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki

However, to know if the rules and procedures are devoid of systemic racism is not something one can quickly determine unless the rules and procedures are very simple. Here is another example…

Suppose I have a rule in my house that the kids’ bedtimes are determined by their age – the older they get, the later the bedtime is. This is a simple rule, and it is easy to see that it doesn’t single out any subset of my children. There is no obvious injustice. Right?

Well, let’s examine the situation a little closer. Suppose, after medical assessment, we discover that one of my children has Short Sleeper Syndrome (SSS)… in fact, the youngest child. We now have a slightly more complicated situation… but probably easily resolved: there is no set amount of sleep required so the kids can wake up as early as they like.

Next, let’s suppose we introduce a new additional rule: everyone must wake up when the first person wakes up. Now we have a system that causes a change in behaviours to adjust to the new reality. Some of the older kids might choose to go to sleep earlier even than that one with SSS. Still okay, but a little odd and it might cause problems with socializing for the older kids. Still, socializing in the evenings is optional right?

Well, actually, now we have two rules and a consequence of those rules: the older kids cannot develop a social life. This is a systemic injustice, but it is not explicit injustice. In other words, we didn’t create a rule that singles out the older kids for unfair treatment. Instead, we have a combination of rules and characteristics of people in the system that creates injustice.

So, I think that RCMP Commissioner Lucki may not be aware of the systemic racism in the RCMP. There may indeed be a set of rules and procedures (including the laws of the land and internal policies) which conspire to create systemic racism.

How do we find out? Well, the way to start is to look at data. Then do a root cause analysis. (FWIW, this is the kind of thing I do as a consultant with businesses.)

Unfortunately, there is one further complication to the story: falsifiability.

It is extremely hard, and often impossible, to falsify an accusation about a system. Most systems are complex… which is beyond complicated… and determining cause and effect relationships is difficult.

The accusation of systemic racism against a specific organization such as the RCMP is not falsifiable. Why? Start by asking this question: “what would it take to prove that the RCMP has no vestige of systemic racism left in it?” How would you prove such a thing? What evidence and reasoning would it take? What experiments or measurements would you need to do? If you analyze every single piece of data, every rule, policy, procedure and law… can you be certain that systemic racism is not there?

Does this problem matter? Well, yes.

Until there is a falsifiable definition of systemic racism, applicable to specific systems such as the RCMP, then it is also unjust to take any action for or against the organization on the basis of a claim of systemic racism.

What can we do? Well, for one thing, we need that falsifiable definition of systemic racism. I admit… for this article, I did a quick few Google searches and couldn’t find anything that meets my mathematically-minded standard… but I’m not an academic specializing in racism (sociology, presumably). It might exist somewhere…

Love is Love - or is it?

Thoughts on “Love is Love”

Intersectionality/Privilege Disclaimer: I’m a strait white male in a 1st world country who grew up in a minority religion, in poverty, and with a mild medical disability.

“Love is Love”, the Pride slogan, is propaganda of the highest order.

The word “love” in English covers many types and they have important differences that should not be hidden. Often the specific meaning is obvious from the context of a discourse… and that may even apply to the Pride slogan. But, the slogan actually challenges anyone who wants to make a distinction about different kinds of love and is implicitly critical and judgemental of that. Here are examples:

Love between friends, platonic love.

Love between parent and child, familial love.

Love between lovers, passionate love.

Love between newly married couple, romantic love.

Love between long-married couple, patient love.

Love between strangers on a one-night-stand, animal love.

Love between a pet owner and pet, playful or comfort love.

Love between work colleagues, common-cause love.

Love between a person and their work, their food, their travel, their reading, their hobby, pastime, or interests, intellectual love.

Love between a person and their tv show, game, food, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, drugs or other addiction, dysfunctional love.

Love between a person and the cosmos or God, ideal love.

I’m sure there are many more ways that the word “love” is used in real life in English and they are not all the same, we would never advocate that they are all the same, and in many cases they have important legal differences. I hope I don’t need to give examples of some of the twisted things that people do that they call “love”.

The slogan is a very Orwellian thing: it simplifies and twists language for political and power purposes.

Archive Journal Entry: 20030308

There is an extremely interesting article up on kuro5hin called Temporal Symbolism in Human Communication. I recommend it particularly to any writers and to those interested in the Baha’i principle of an international auxiliary language.

Thanks to those who emailed me about language learning materials (namely, Ross… do you have a homepage I can link to?)!!!

This past Christmas/New Year’s break, while visiting my family in Fort McMurray, my dad had an insight about my character. He noticed how much I enjoy food. He noted that, in essense, this pleasure is a very sensual delight. Finally, he suggested that if I was concerned about how much I was eating, I might try including more of the arts in my life. So. I have made a small effort in that regard. Particularly with music. I have started to listen to music a little more, I have set up my piano and I regularly sit down at it, and I have started composing with buzz. In the meantime, I have continued to think on this insight. It turns out that it is a little more dark an issue than just a natural inclination to the sensual… I believe I use food as psychological respite, similar in perhaps a small way to the drinking of an alcoholic. Now due to my fantastic metabolism, I am not having a serious weight problem. Nevertheless, I realized that I “use” food when I am lonely or otherwise feeling down. It is something that I turn to instead of to a real solution. At the very least, I should seriously consider saying more prayers. And writing here helps too 🙂

My mom got me a great present for my birthday. I forgot to mention it because it was sent by mail and arrived quite late. She got me “The Idiot” (US$, CA$) by Dostoevsky (google search). I’m now serveral chapters into it and enjoying it very much. The main significance of this work to me is that it is the source of my name. The main character, Prince Mishkin, is the one after whom I am named.

Last Tuesday night I started with a Ruhi book 1 study circle in Jersey City. I am quite happy about it. I last did book 1 back in 1993 or so in a retreat with four other young guys. We became known as the Five Boy Institute. Alexei, Sky Glabush, Dean Kalyan and Cory April were the other attendees. There were three notable aspects of that winter weekend retreat at a cabin. The first, that the water, or some food was bad and we all ended up with multiple trips to the outhouse the one night we stayed over. The second, we didn’t really know how to use the enormous wood-burning stove and we ended up with an indoor temperature of somewhere around 45C (113F). And finally, we had one seriously spiritual weekend with many rounds of the “Fire Tablet” and serious study of the writings.