Monthly Archives: July 2011

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Something for the weekend.  Scenes from the American Revolution set to the music of the film National Treaure.  This Fourth of July weekend we should recall our heritage, especially the eight long years of war it took to achieve American independence.  We should also remember these words of our second President John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail on April 26, 1777: Continue reading

Top Pixar Movies (Updated)

As is usually the case on the internet,  my previous post on environmentalism sparked a side-discussion in the comments about Pixar movies.  I wasn’t able to enter the fray because I was a little busy helping deliver my second-born daughter into this world, but I couldn’t let the topic go without comment.  So what better way to get my blogging feet wet again after a little bit of a lay-off than a light post about the best Pixar movies.  So though this is neither a political or religious post, I ask for your indulgence.

It would be nice to say that my interest in Pixar movies was sparked because of my two-year old, but I saw all of these well before she was born.  We have most of the Pixar collection, but it’s not exactly a parental chore to have to sit through these over and over and over and over and over and over again.  Of course now she’s really into Shrek, which happens to be a Dreamworks production.  We also have a few movies from the Disney collection: The Princess Frog and Tangled being among her current favorites.  And her first love will always be Pooh, that silly old bear.  By and large, though, Pixar has been churning out the best of the 3D animated flicks.  In fact I’d put every movie on the Pixar list ahead of any movie on the Dreamworks list save Shrek (1 and 2) and Wallace and Gromit.

So with that in mind, here’s my rundown of the five best Pixar animated films.  I’d just mention that the only one I haven’t seen is the one that sparked the entire discussion: Cars (and now Cars 2).

Continue reading

Trolley Madness

At last, I have come across the Trolley Problem which truly gets at the difficulties of modern life.

On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans’ bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.

If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, ‘Leftie,’ and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, ‘Leftie’ will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of ‘Leftie’s’ act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by ‘Leftie’ are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and ‘Leftie’ are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available; however, the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.

Assume that the brain’s choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.

What should the brain do?

Excerpted from:
– Michael F. Patton Jr., “Tissues in the Profession: Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, January 1988

July 2, 1776: The Vote

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From the musical 1776, a heavily dramatized version of the vote to declare American independence on July 2, 1776.  The scene is effective but historically false.   James Wilson did not dither about his vote, but was a firm vote for independence, having ascertained that his Pennsylvania constituents were in favor of independence.  There was no conflict over slavery, Jefferson and Adams having already agreed to remove from the Declaration the attack on the King for promoting the slave trade.  Caesar Rodney did make a dramatic ride to Congress of 80 miles in order to break a deadlock in the Delaware delegation over independence, but he was not dying and would live until June 26, 1784, witnessing the triumph of America in the Revolutionary War. Continue reading

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