Michael Battalio

Friday, December 17, 2010

Serious Conversations (Part 23):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-third entry is more on leadership and influence:

I find that those who most want to lead do not deserve our following, but those that have it thrust upon them are the best leaders.  (Modesty is a good quality for a leader, but must be balanced by the passion for the position.)

My friend posed these questions to me: What does this (the dichotomy of leaders needing to influence but also be tolerant of opposing ideas [see previous post]) mean for democracy?  Everyone gets an equal vote, but in reality, most people vote because they have been influenced by some leader or other.  The leaders wield the true power. If you're a democratically-elected leader, presumably your duty is to represent.  Does that mean you must try /not/ to blatantly influence people?

My response: The difference is whether the influence is based off of evidence and logic or simply the desire of the leader to wield power.  If a leader has logic and evidence in support of his argument, then his influence pursues a good end.  A leader should merely articulate the facts, and it is up to an intelligent public to recognize the facts from the opinion.  (This is why I would argue there are so many problems with the world. I am a pessimist, and I believe most people are lazy and dumb.)  Also I believe we have to take into account the amount of influence a leader is trying to exert - back to my shades of gray comment.  I don't believe any leader will truly, completely successfully change the mind of a voter.  They are trying to convince those that already have a similar view of an issue that their differences in opinion are small.  Obama would try to convince fellow liberals/democrats that his specific plan on whatever topic is close enough to what they believe in that they should support it.  He isn't trying to change the mind of a staunch conservative/Republican.  [As an aside I'm reading "Billions and Billions" by Carl Sagan, and he makes the point, what exactly are conservatives trying to conserve?  With their drilling and consume first, ask questions later attitude, it certainly isn't the environment.  I found that interesting.]

So, yes, it is the duty of a leader to not blatantly influence the public but instead to present facts in support of their point of view.  The amount of influence a leader wields depends on the intelligence of the populace to weigh the facts presented by their leader against what they perceive (and hopefully investigate) as the truth.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Serious Conversations (Part 22):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. Time to take the series in a completely new direction. The twenty-second entry is on leadership and influence:

Change happens. And it is accepted that leaders use their influence to cause change, but where do those leaders come from? Generally people are influenced by those they respect, and each group of people has those individuals which lead the majority. I believe the reason leaders are the minority and followers the majority is that most people are lazy and are happy being told what is best for them.  Now, people are influenced by those they like or respect, but what makes someone like or respect someone else?  Is it merely the sharing of values and ideas?  Does the respected have certain virtues (honesty, integrity, courage, etc.)?  Or are we human beings more shallow (attractiveness, charisma)?  If we respect out of virtue and like-mindedness then the leader is appropriately chosen, but if we chose based on physical parameters then our decision is doomed to disappoint.  [How much of an election is based off of the physical characteristics of the candidates I wonder.]  

We are also taught that we should politely accept our differences in opinion from others, so how do leaders handle the need to change and influence topics while still respecting the opinions of others? It seems to me that influence is what most of our society is based on now. I would even argue that the scientific method is based off the need to influence fellow scientists, and moreover it is unprofessional and downright foolish of a scientist not to be influenced when they are wrong.  We should confine our discussion about topics where there is no right or wrong point of view.  In that case, I find we listen to the leaders we already substantively agree with in that we listen to those that already mostly share our views [I doubt Obama has convinced any Republican that a public option is a good healthcare proposition.].  This is why when there are opposing views there are leaders that support each idea.  [This is where I would go into a discussion of shades of gray - i.e. no leader has exactly our point of view in mind.  At that point, do we settle for someone who is close enough?  In our political system the answer at the moment is yes.]

So it comes down to what topics is it permissible to accept the myriad of opinions and what topics is it important to argue and to attempt to influence.  That is more of a personal question as to what each individual cares about.  That is a result of one's societal standing, childhood development, religious upbringing (e.g. devout Christians feel homosexuality is a sin and must be abolished due to their religious upbringing. I, being not so religious, think it is a personal decision, and at the least the government should provide no preference to hetero/homosexuality.  And there are many other examples of course.).  The point I'm trying to make is that each decision, topic, or problem is different as to whether influence is acceptable, and the reasons for that are the same reasons that define our own personal development as individuals.  In general, the more important the topic is to us, and the more fervently we feel about an issue, the more apt we are to believe it is acceptable to influence others.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Serious Conversations (Part 21):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. In this, the twenty-first entry, I decide that happiness is a process:

        Happiness is a process. You attain a level of achievement, become satisfied that you have done a “good” thing and then move on to a higher level of achievement (for example, wanting to eat, then learning a trade, then buying a home, then collecting stamps as a hobby). We are never tired of being happy because there is always another level of achievement to shoot for. And when I say level of achievement, I don’t mean some existential spiritual state. I am speaking of a state of being. Because happiness is a process, trying to do things that make other people happy is not what someone should do to makes themselves happy. Everyone is at a different level of achievement, and I would think that no two people are ever at the same level of achievement, therefore happiness is unique to the individual. Also, some people never get beyond a certain level of achievement and once you reach that point you are happy performing the same process over and over again (e.g. a person sticking with the same hobby for their entire life) A lot of the time though the person will move on to another level and find happiness doing another thing like moving on to collecting coins instead of stamps. (I think I should clarify, I don’t necessarily think one level of achievement is better than another because who am I to say so. I am talking about different levels being higher than one another because it is easier for me to visualize moving on from one object of happiness to another) The point is that we are always striving to get to a new level of achievement. And these levels can branch and cause you to try new things and do new things. Happiness is a process.
        I think the question is not what makes us happy?, but what are “good things” one does to become happy? I think that doing those good things is what makes a person happy. I believe that those good things are different for every person, and because I’m a different person now than when I was even a couple of seconds ago, those good things change very quickly. Perhaps that’s why different “good things” cause different levels of happiness at different times and why were are happy doing different things, or that we feel like performing one hobby or “good” act instead of another. When we are at a different time we are a different person, and that person has a different want, a different “good” act to perform.
        So what are those good things? I believe these are set on several levels: biological, philosophical, and societal, so there is no set list of things to that a person can strive for to perform those good acts that will make them happy. Although I’m tempted to try to categorize the possible good things, I think that would be a waste of time. So just to give a definition of a good thing: a good thing is an object of one’s attention that causes or aids in the continuation of happiness, where happiness is a state of being characterized by contentment and satisfaction of one’s life. However, there is something I can’t seem to quantify in addition to that. I don’t like my definition of happiness. It seems there should be more to it than that. But I need some sort of definition to start. Hopefully, I have more on this subject later.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Serious Conversations (Part 20):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twentieth entry concerns happiness:

My friend began by saying that there is more to happiness than merely the secretion of chemicals in the brain caused by pleasure. She suggested that because we are a social species an activity that brings an individual pleasure may not cause happiness because that activity is “socially unacceptable, considered useless, or somehow otherwise doesn't fit in with what our higher reasoning values”. For something to make you happy it must make you happy on an individual level and be acceptable socially and be valued to you on a higher reasonable level. These activities will depend on the individual and depend on social influences and culture. Some are happy doing trivial things or happy doing socially frowned upon things because they have “eliminated internal conflict, either by changing what they do or by changing what they value”.

I answered by describing what some others have thought of happiness:
        Aristotle considers happiness the contemplative life, specifically contemplating what truths there are in the universe.  “the life according to reason is best and pleasantest, since reason more than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the happiest.”
        Eudoxus thought that happiness was pleasure.  Pleasure being an object of choice, and an object of choice is ‘excellent’ and good, and because he saw that all things move towards and do what they find pleasurable, pleasure must be the chief end and goal.  This is however a fallacious argument, appealing to the masses.
        Aristotle also thought that happiness was doing noble and good acts because they are self sufficient (i.e. that they are ends to themselves and “do not lack anything” [whatever that means]).  It was also widely agreed upon that you need to have other people around to be happy-to contemplate life with, to do pleasurable things with, to do noble acts with.
        Also I would say that if pleasure is the sole avenue towards happiness then it is obvious why no one is happy all the time.  Pleasure is the result of an activity.  Simply because we are human, we cannot be pursuing activity all the time; we get tired.  Thus pleasure cannot be continuous and then happiness is not continuous.
        So after all of this, I would say that happiness is a combination of things: pleasure, amusement, contemplation, and the achievement of “good” things.  Where a good thing is an end which is noble, virtuous and helps people.  I also think that some are content in simple pleasure and amusement because they don’t have contemplation and good things.  I also think that many are addicted to simple pleasure and thus don’t care about the contemplative life.  Lastly, I think that to be happy you must have a combination of all those things I mentioned above-one or two won’t really cut it.  
        I know I am sounding like an expert on this, and perhaps I’m just trying to be an expert on my own happiness and generalizing it to everyone else.  But I think that I’ll find it much easier to achieve happiness if I understand what it is, even if it is just my own personal happiness and not some universal truth, which I don’t believe exist anyway.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Serious conversations (part 19):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The nineteenth entry deals with deciding upon a purpose in life:

        I think that it is useless to plan out your entire life, but I wonder how much you should plan out, what is prudent and what is excessive.  Obviously at some point plans will become meaningless because they are so far in the future, and there are entirely too many variables to be considered. Even the most carefully thought out plans are lacking at some point in the future. However, short term plans are very useful. They help steer and guide so that you aren’t lost in the tedium of day to day activities. You should take heed of how you feel and what you’re thinking about and allow that to be your guide. And if at some point, despite your best efforts, you’ve found that you’ve taken a misstep, you can always go take a few steps back and continue. The beauty of life is that you can always change your mind.
        While I don’t think you need to have an ultimate goal or accomplishment in mind, I do think everyone needs a purpose in life. If that purpose is to figure out what your purpose is then that is fine, but really living a contemplative life, one of the things I think leads to happiness, means trying to figure out what your purpose is and then acting out that purpose.  However, your purpose doesn’t have to be some lofty ideal.  I believe that loosely my purpose if several fold:  One, my first purpose is to be happy, not a just a physical happy, but a psychological happy as well.  Two, a purpose of thought, to be self aware and constantly questioning what it is I believe and do, and if this questioning leads me away or towards religion then so be it.  Three, to return what I have been given (whether by divinity or chance or fate) to the people around me, that can be through my talents, actions, personality, and words - to make other people around me better off and happier than they were.
        Perhaps your purpose could be achieving set ambitions and goals.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as you are determined to figure out what that purpose is eventually.  I for one know that I always feel very fulfilled when I do critically think about my existence.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Serious conversations (part 18):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The eighteenth entry wonders what is a worthwhile pursuit:

        In trying to figure out what exactly I should be doing with my time, I’ve come to ask myself many questions, the foremost being, what is a worthwhile pursuit of my time?
        It seems to me worthwhile pursuits should fall into a couple of categories (outside of working to fulfill basic needs – food, shelter, etc.).  One, personal development, exploration, and awareness - as in learning about something new, contemplating one’s existence, meeting new people and learning about them and learning what they know.  Two, advancement of the human race - as in helping others, yourself, or your environment.  Three, understanding of the universe – as in discovering new truths about the universe or simply learning how it works (the sciences, and philosophy).  Four, recreation – as in the pleasures and pastimes that keep our spirits up and allow for a level of unrestricted joy. We need recreation and entertainment just for the sake of it to give our minds time to relax outside of sleep.  I think that trivial things are fine as long as that is not all someone does.  Also, I think enabling others to perform worthwhile pursuits is a worthwhile pursuit (e.g. parenting).
        The question is now why I think those are worthwhile? Perhaps a worthwhile pursuit is an action that helps fulfill our purpose in life.  I loosely define my purpose in life to be happy.  I am happy when I am doing something in one of those categories.  This makes sense to me even though that is circular reasoning.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Serious conversations (part 17):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The seventeenth entry concerns friendship:

My friend began speaking about friendship from the point of mutual communication, wondering does a friendship exist with no communication, and how she believe she had set up a communication barrier of sorts by not participating in some forms of communication.
“The people I’ve maintained good contact with emphatically DOES NOT map directly onto those to whom I was the closest while we lived in the same place and interacted in person.  It instead maps simply to the people who are best at communicating by the same methods that I prefer to use to communicate.”

I responded:
        I can say almost uniformly that everyone has difficult developing friends and relationships when moving somewhere new.  Almost everyone I knew that moved on to grad this year has expressed difficulty in fitting in to the new place and finding new people.  It just takes time.
        People, as I'm sure you have noticed, like to talk.  The advantages you give e-mail are some of the same things others would call disadvantages. People have so little time to sit down and actually write well thought out e-mails. And granted, I like having a serious conversation written for the sake of having a record. (I've many times sat down and read the entire way though our serious conversation.)  But typing things out just takes so much longer to do.  However, casual communication - the how are you? or here's something interesting that's just happened in my life - are so much easier to have via phone for most people.   (Plus, despite becoming much better at it in the last few years, I have a hard time finding stopping points in conversations so instead of politely excusing myself from a conversation I end up leaving awkward silences, so I don't really talk on the phone all that much anyway.)
        I think that communication is a big part of relationships, and that without it relationships are very difficult.  I can however think of a few people I still have a friendship with that I don't really talk to anymore.  Some relationships can be picked up and continued despite a lack for communication for a very long time.  It depends on the relationships, but to give a general statement:  most relationships would fail without communication in my opinion.
        Getting back to making close friends, I read an article a while ago talking about friendships.  It said that on average 70% of a person's friends change every 7 years.  It went on to say that people find friends along similar avenues.  So if you found friends via theatre activities or band or via your profession, that is how you would continue making friends.
        The point is you can't live in a bubble and expect to make friends.  That was the problem I had my freshman year at state.  I didn't go do anything.  Once I did begin branching out, friendships just happened.  Once you begin your professional career, assuming you don't just work and go home everyday for your entire life, you will find people your age to interact with.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Serious conversations (part 16):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The sixteenth entry in this series is another short comment on religion, specifically its prevalence:

        My friend made a very good point about why people need religion. To expound: One of the reasons a lot of people hold onto religion into adulthood is because church is more about believing in a religion. It is about socialization with others. Adults in general only socialize around people involved in work or activities involving their children. The largest social outlet for adults outside of those two areas is church and church sponsored activities. Most people need to be around other people to develop and be sane human beings. One of the best parts of humanity is being able to be with others. Church provides that necessity.
        Another unrelated reason religion is so prevalent is that religion provides an easy way to complain and ask for wishes. And if someone gives up religion they give away a level of control of their lives. To explain: when you believe in a greater power than yourself, you can pray to that power to fix things you cannot. So when someone gives up on that power they admit there exist circumstances outside of their control. They lose a level of control.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Serious conversations (part 15):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifteenth entry concerns self determination:

To quote my friend:
The problem is this: in a world where you can do just about anything, how do you decide what to do? When you're smart enough and educated enough to do almost anything there is in the world to do, how can you possibly figure out what you should do, what you want to do?

Ever wondered about why the fiction stories that seem to appeal most to our world now involve people who are fulfilling their "destiny?" Take something like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, and you find a hero who is simply playing out something they were always meant to do because of their bloodline or because of some particularly extraordinary thing that happened to them that doesn't really leave them much choice about what to do with the rest of their lives. That's how they become great. Indeed, it seems like heroes in these types of stories are the ones we like best. We hold some romanticized notions of destiny and fate that really play almost no bearing on everyday life today. Granted, it is undoubtedly much easier to craft an interesting story when you have a definite problem and a character with an unavoidable fate, much easier than writing a story about a character with no specific inclination toward anything or any particular obstacles in his way except the anxiety of self-determination. But that's what real life is like for people like us. It's terrifying to think that we could literally do /anything/.

In a way, life would be easier if some huge challenge or extraordinary circumstance suddenly landed in my lap because then I would know exactly what to do. Whatever it was might be extremely difficult, but it would be easier than making a choice about what to do in the first place.

Here’s what I said:
I have often pondered about self determination as well. Having taken a lot of different classes (by way of changing majors multiple times), I figured out I could pick just about anything I wanted to do and to it just as well as any other person. This is part of why I keep collecting degrees. (If I had unlimited money I would do that for the rest of my life; I really enjoy learning.) I get an inkling about an interest, and I go investigate it. This is the blessing of our youth. If we have an interest, we can go pursue it. So what if you decide that the path you are taking is wrong. At worst you've wasted some of your time (and money). I think this is what most self-determined people end up doing-trying stuff until they like it. I know a lot of people who change careers mid-stream. It is just a matter of being patient enough to wait until you have found a vocation.
        Unfortunately, some people are anxious about self-determination, and they just go to the first and easiest place they can go. I think this is partly the reason people working just awful jobs don't leave, because they are scared of what to go do next, not necessarily that they wouldn't be able to find something next, just that would have to find something.
        I agree that actually making the choice about what to do is harder than actually doing something. The problem is, I don't really know how to go about making the final determination of what I should do. I just have to hope that my future self will be able to make a better choice than I can presently.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Serious conversations (part 14):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fourteenth entry has general comments about a career and college (With a paragraph about classical music just for the heck of it):

         I think once you get far into a profession, most people are devoted to their field. Undergrads are there because they know no better. Grad students are in a field because they think they will like it. Doctoral students because they believe they will enjoy making it their career. Post docs because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And professionals because they know enough about their field to be excited.
        I am of the belief that as an undergrad you narrow down your career path to one field, and grad school is where you figure out what you want to do in that field. There are numerous exceptions, for example physicists or mathematicians going into meteorology or some sort of engineering as they go into grad school.  But in general, that’s how I see the end of college, a increasing narrowing of scope.
        A lot of finding the perfect job is luck; a large portion of it is diligence though.  That’s the part I’m determined in making sure is in my favor.  You just have to try until you find what it is you can do for 30 or 40 years of your life. You just have to look into something that you might be interested in and finding who it is that hires those people, what degrees they have, what is their job description, what other duties they have, etc.  The possibilities are endless really, especially in the age of information we are in today.
        (In reference to the last bit of part 13 of this series.) I am not aspiring to be a professional musician or conductor, but if it ever happened, I believe I would be happy doing it.  As far as composing is concerned, that’s the problem with contemporary “classical” music; there are so many other genres of music, that not many people really listen to it anymore.  There is also something to be said of music not being appreciated in the era it is composed.  For example, rioting at the Rite of Spring, but now it's considered fantastic, same with a lot of Schoenberg.   Bach wasn’t even appreciated in his time.  I’m certain that fifty years from now we will look back and see the “great composers” were right in front of us.  Although it concerns me that “classical” music is not appreciated as much as it should be. A lot of that has to do with the perception that classical music is boring. The real problem is that you actually have to pay attention, be absorbed by the music. It takes effort to listen to classical. Pop music has made everyone a passive listener. As long as there is a repeating set of chords, a heavy bass line, and some vulgar lyrics, it can become popular. You don't need much brain activity to listen to it. Although there is some quality popular music being made, the vast majority of pop music is geared towards those who don't actively listen, they just follow along as a lemming.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Serious conversations (part 13):

This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirteenth entry is a continuation of the part about where I am going in life:

A long time ago I figured out that I was going to have a hard time in deciding what to do with my life.  I enjoy doing too many things.  I considered music for a while, but I also enjoyed building things, so for a while I wanted to be an engineer, which is part of the reason I started out majoring as one.  My dad started making me go to the library right after I began going to junior high, which is one of the things I am most grateful to my dad for actually.  I always had a curiosity about physics, so I began reading about it.  That's where my physics kick began.  For what ever reason, I also loved watching the weather channel.  I still don't know why I like it so much, the material repeats every 30 minutes.  So, I got into meteorology and reading about it as well.  And meteorology is after all, only applied math and physics
Forgetting changing majors so many times, the biggest problem still remains what to do after all my school, and how much school do I want.  I do intend on getting at least a master's.  At this point I'm already signed up for a program.  I suppose I'll decide on whether to get a doctorate once I'm a ways into my masters.
After school, I'd like to get a job.  Where becomes the issue. Currently, I'm playing with the idea of staying in higher education and trying to get a tenure track position as professor.  From what I've seen of it, I think I'd like research and teaching.  I have also toyed with the idea of going into the National Weather Service.  It's difficult to get into because they consolidated the offices about a decade ago, so there are significantly fewer positions.  But, after a few years, you get paid very well.  However, they work in shifts, and seniority does not get you out of working the night or weekend shifts.  You get paid a 10% bonus for working then, but I'm not so keen on the idea of working outside the regular 9-5 workday, much less having to change my schedule every few weeks.  In TV, the pay and hours stink for the first ten or so years (avg. salary starting out is less than 30,000 and just about everyone is given a weekend shift, meaning you work just about your entire 40 hour week in two days.  No thanks.)  I am good at the TV stuff, but I don't really want to deal with the stress and publicity of it.
That's about it.  In spite of all that though, if I could make a nice living playing the piano or any other instrument and composing, or especially becoming the director of an orchestra/symphony (my dream job), I would drop everything and do that.  I fall more and more in love with music every day. Don't get me wrong, I love meteorology and physics and the rest as well, but music is my passion.  I also think it might be interesting to become a philosopher or writer.  That would be something very interesting to try.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Serious conversations (part 12):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twelfth entry is about where I am going in life:

Both my friend and I are having difficulty in narrowing our focus in life. Here’s what I have to say about it.

        College is becoming more about gaining life experience, which we all would do without college anyway, but a specific kind of life experience.  An experience which will enable us to parse out ideas, troubleshoot problems, embrace diversity, and become a better person than a life experience without college. College in general is a good idea, regardless of whether or not you come out of it in a specific field.  However, I am not necessarily saying that each further layer of education narrows your choice of career by a level.  I'm just saying that after you finish a layer of education you have a smaller world cone of possibilities that you could become, for example with a degree in physics, you probably wouldn't go to grad school for theatre.  An undergrad degree has narrowed your scope at least some, though not to a specific field.  
        I think it's obvious to say that as the average person becomes more and more educated, undergraduate degrees will erode in prestige; you'll have to have more degrees for the same reward in a career.  Also, as the body of knowledge of our race grows, an undergrad degree makes up a smaller and
smaller percentage of knowledge that can be known.  Eventually people will have to have careers that are very specific simply because a human brain isn't capable of understanding the amount of knowledge in a general field. So, comparatively not long ago an equivalent undergrad education would give you enough knowledge to make breakthroughs in a field that cannot be done today.  Therefore, we cannot blame ourselves completely for neither being able to specialize enough nor for being as enthusiastic as we should simply because the world around us is changing, not so much the typical undergrad.
        My enthusiasm for different things changes all the time, hobbies, different music, books, etc.  So, I would think that it would be no different for a field.  Perhaps it will just take us time working in different things we find intriguing to find the subject we can become excited about.  The beauty about college is that you are exposed to many different fields and can try out many different subjects to find one that suits you.  
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