With regret, we are going to cancel the remaining Sententia discussion posts of the year. Due to a lack of apparent interest, I’ve decided to focus my efforts more on the regular weekly postings, and on generating new, original content. This will not affect the Tuesday posts, the Thursday book reviews, or the Blood Magic schedule.
Therapists, psychiatrists, religious leaders, consultants, and other forms of counselors have rapidly proliferated in recent decades. It sometimes seems almost like the modern Oracle - you have a question about what you ought to do, so instead of going to the Oracle at Delphi for a prophecy, you go to the local psychiatrist for an augury.
Many people speak of making decisions by instinct, or of "gut feelings." Without getting into the conversation of nature versus nurture, human instinct is a peculiar thing, something in which many people place a great amount of faith, but most people don't even fully understand the difference between instinct and intuition. Instinct is something that is fundamental to a creature's biological makeup, while intuition is the result of the brain's complexity leading to the synthesis of a solution without presenting in detail all of the steps it took to reach that result.
Curiosity is a peculiar mixed blessing. It can lead to great discoveries and improvements, but it can also be decidedly dangerous and lead to situations for which we are not in any way prepared. Although not unique to humans, humans take it further than any other species on Earth has. Yet from an evolutionary perspective, the urge to explore does not always make sense.
Traditionally, morality and the question of right and wrong have been the province of religion. More and more people do not identify as religious or follow a particular religious teaching. Useful for consideration: Aristotle's Virtue Ethics, Moral Relativism, Abraham Lincoln's essay on the importance of upholding the law, Martin Luther King's Letters from a Birmingham Jail, Utilitarianism, Deontology, Kant's universal law.
As we improve our understanding of the human brain and the human body, we get closer to the ability to repair it like we would any other machine. With that, we also start to look at the source of consciousness and self, what has been often called the soul. Consider what would happen if an entire person, all of their memories and neurons and physical characteristics at a subatomic level, could be simulated or "uploaded" to a computer system.
In theory, a sufficient understanding of genetics, and the technology to implement that understanding, could lead to the ability to create custom people. CRISPR-Cas9 has delivered significant successes in genetic engineering, including human experiments in China in which a scientist used the technology to alter human embryos to remove a disease-causing gene sequence.
Prison reform has been a subject of debate for many years now, and there has been a lot of discussion, especially in the past year or so, about what role prison is really supposed to fill. Is it punishment? Disincentive? Reform tool? Protection for society? These debates are not new; similar conversations have been occurring at least as far back as the days of Mesopotamia. In a way, it's probably a problem and a debate that comes along with the existence of society - wherever there is society, there will be those who do not obey its strictures (for whatever reason).
We've talked a bit about statistics before. Sometimes, it seems that our modern society has a numbers fetish. Every argument seems to come down exclusively to data, decisions are made based on data, and the world turns on enormous quantities of data (I really should do a post on "Big Data" and its implications). All of that data is presented in the form of statistics, but statistics can be made to say almost anything.
Artificial intelligence continues to advance at a rapid pace, and some experts predict that we could have some form of a conscious computer in less than a century. In the last Sententia discussion, we considered the biological definition of life. This expands on that idea, and brings in definitions of "consciousness" and "sentience."