The Right Man Was Convicted

I have, on the rarest of occasions, been mistaken. If that admission has not rocked your world to its foundation, I am sure it is because you reasoned thusly: “I am always right. Jake is not me. Anybody who is not me must differ from me in some respect. Therefore, Jake must be wrong at least sometimes.”

As Ben Franklin wrote, “Most men… think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them, it is so far error.”

We regard this as something of a joke. We agree that people tend to be extremely confident in their beliefs even (or perhaps especially) when they do not have all of the information. But since we really do know better, the convictions of others are laughable.

However silly self-confidence can seem in such an uncertain world, it does serve one useful purpose. Namely, it gives people the grounding required to act. Without convictions, one can hardly be expected to do anything wholeheartedly. That has long been one of the great arguments against philosophy in general is that it produces no action. Socrates’ “I know that I do not know” is not exactly a call to arms.

The problem of how to be a man of action while still living the life of the mind is one that Franklin himself seems to have over-come. It seems that part of his ability to act was his willingness to compromise for the sake of practical progress. He never lost sight of the his real world goals and always looked for a way to realize theoretical progress.

Beer of the week: Budweiser – As part of “America Night”, I read Franklin and made a delicious cheese steak sandwich with real American colby-jack cheese. However, the night went wrong when it came to the beer. A careful examination of my Budweiser bottle revealed the OB logo on the glass. Further research indicates that Budweiser sold in Korea is brewed in Korea. The tasted confirmed it. Imagine a bland, watery beer… then add water. In general, I do not care much for Korean beer (or Budweiser for that matter,) but this was the worst Korean offering yet.

Reading for the week: Disapproving and accepting the Constitution by Benjamin Franklin – In a very short address, Franklin makes a few bons mots about self-confidence and then proceeds to justify compromise for the sake of the practical end of a working federal government.

Question for the week: What is the limit to which one can “sacrifice [his opinion] to the common good” before he does the common good a disservice by not insisting on some point of principle?

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Feeling BLUE?

If you are feeling down, I have some advice for you: keep your chin up. Literally. It will make you feel better. As cliched as it sounds, “keep your chin up” is practical advice. This is because the real stuff of emotions is not abstract mental states, but all of the physical changes that accompany them.

If you do not trust me on this point, perhaps you will trust the dog whisperer Caesar Milan.  He occasionally advises people to hold up their dog’s tail because that is how a confident dog holds its tail. The dog, feeling its body physically displaying confidence, actually becomes confident. Looking confident (or, more properly, physically experiencing confidence) is being confident.  The same is true for all of the standard emotions.

“That is all very well for dogs,” you say, “but I am nearly twice as intelligent as a dog; my brain surely could not be fooled so easily.”  However, the great American psychologist William James asserts that it really is just that simple:  “Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it do not gradually thaw!”

Beer of the week:  OB BLUE – The name “BLUE” is supposedly an acronym for “Brewed at Low temperature, matUred and fErmented.”  Since the beer is a pale lager, the name is appropriate enough (if a little odd.)  This beer has one distinct high-point:  the smell.  OB Blue has a pleasant hoppy aroma.  Its bouquet (as connoisseurs might say) is not quite as strong as Pilsner Urquell, but still reminiscent of a fine pilsner.  The taste is a bit sweet and doesn’t have as much hop flavor as the aroma suggests, but as far as Korean macro-brews go, this is the best I’ve encountered.

Reading for the week:  What is an Emotion? by William James – In this article, James proposes his theory that the physical manifestations of an emotion are really “the entire fund and capital of the emotion.” One does not weep because he is sad, rather one calls his weeping, the tightness in his chest, and all the other related physical reactions “sadness.”

Question for the week:  Were it possible to completely habituate oneself against the pangs and sobbing of grief or the elevated heart rate and flushing of anger, would it be worth it? Doesn’t one lose something of his humanity by effectively ridding his body of these emotions?


How Odd

Only a block from my apartment is Odyssey, a self-proclaimed “Western Bar.”  How I lived in the neighborhood for four months without darkening their door, I do not know.  The Olde English sign alone should have been enough to draw me in.  (As it turns out, they do not serve OE.)

I assumed that a “Western Bar” meant an American style bar, where I could sit alone on a bar-stool and maybe watch some sort of sport on the television.  Feeling somewhat lonely and homesick, this behavior was exactly what I was looking for.  However, the “Westernness” of Odyssey consisted primarily of a few small cowboy statuettes and a Betty Boop poster.  So I sat alone at a table, watching the news without any sound.  With the help of a young lady at the next table, I ordered fried chicken and a Beck’s Dark.  I am sure I looked particularly lonely at a table set for four with a huge pile of fried chicken (and the side of fries that came with it) in front of me.  I was several people short of a Homeric ideal: “There is nothing better or more delightful than when a whole people make merry together, with the guests sitting orderly to listen, while the table is loaded with bread and meats, and the cup-bearer draws wine and fills his cup for every man.”

Beer of the week: Beck’s Dark – Perhaps my own bad mood flavored the beer.  I had remembered Beck’s Dark fondly for its crisp, dark malt flavor combined with a light body.  On this night however, the beer seemed somewhat bland and watery.  For the price, I was happy to move on to domestic draughts to wash down my chicken.  Also, in Korea, the neck of the chicken is fried and served with the rest.  I assume this is done as a joke.

Reading for the week:  The Odyssey by Homer, Book IX, Lines 1-38 – Ulysses begins his emotional narrative to the Phaeacians with the claim that there is nothing more delightful than merry-making with plenty of wine and food.  But he goes on to show that even in such a pleasant atmosphere, the weary traveler longs for his home.

Question for the week:  If “there is nothing dearer to a man than his own country,” what sort of force is it that makes men leave their homes and seek adventure in the first place?


Aristotle Had Problems

A very common mistake is to imagine that we are more intelligent than the ancients because we have access to more information.  We think to ourselves (in very disrespectful tones,) “How foolish was Plato?  He thought that the Sun circled the Earth!  Every child knows that it is t’other way round!”  We wonder, “what idiot could think that all matter is made up of four elemental parts (fire, earth, water, air)?  It is as plain as day that all matter is made up of THREE elemental parts (neutrons, protons, electrons.)”  We even have the nerve to question Aristotle.  “How could The Philosopher be so silly?” we think.  “He thought that birds do not urinate because that part of their bodily waste is turned into feathers.”

Okay.  I admit that that one seems a bit more outlandish than the others.  But maybe it is not as silly as it seems.  He makes a significant jump when he claims the very specific relationship between birds feathers and the fact that they don’t (appear to) urinate, but it seems unreasonable to assume that they are NOT related.  What separates birds from other animals?  Feathers and a lack of urination.  How can there not be SOME connection?

Beer of the week: Cass Lemon – Like feathers made out of urine, some ideas, while not necessarily wrong, are so strange or odd that they cause an involuntary chuckle.  The first sip of this beer was like that for me.  I expected a very ordinary macro-brew with a hint of lemon.  Perhaps “a hint” doesn’t translate well into Korean.  As far as I can tell, they ran out of fresh water at the Cass brewery.  Luckily, however, they had gallons and gallons of lemon-lime Kool-aid on hand, so they just brewed the beer with that.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t taste much like beer.  It was almost like a shandy.

Reading for the week:  Problems by Aristotle – Aristotle’s major works are still regarded with great reverence and taken very seriously.  One finds it hard to believe that some of the Problems were EVER taken seriously.  If you don’t enjoy your beer, at least you’ll be able to get a laugh out of some of these.  (Just promise that you won’t think that you are actually smarter than Aristotle was.)

Question for the week:  Can you come up with a reasonable explanation of why underarms are the most ticklish part of the body?