Malcolm Gladwell has attempted to create a unique style of scholarship that navigates between science and popular culture. As a result he has earned the wrath from both quarters. For example, scientists accuse him for being simplistic or lacking in rigor. On the other side, commentators from mainstream media accuse him of bringing esoteric scientific concepts to popular discourse. Yet, his book The Tipping Point has sold more than a 3 million copies. His other titles such as Blink (2005), Outliers (2008), David and Goliath (2013), etc, continue to fascinate and provoke in equal measure. Despite the controversies surrounding some of Gladwell’s inferences, his ideas and philosophies have become assimilated into popular discourse. It is an interesting exercise to study how the most important social movement of recent times – Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) – measures up in relation to the author’s theories. This essay endeavors to perform the same.
The Occupy . . . Read More
Two Categories of Biomedical Enhancement (BME)
Even within the field of human biomedical enhancement (which is as yet at a theoretical stage) there are two categories. The first are common or corrective enhancements which aim to set right a deficiency (acquired congenitally or through life events) in a human individual. The second are radical or strategic enhancements which are aimed to give a competitive advantage to the individual undergoing the procedure. Both Allen Buchanan and Nicholas Agar reject radical enhancements. Whereas Agar’s thesis is somewhat accommodative of benign and remedial forms of enhancement, Buchanan’s is more pessimistic.[i] Hence the subject lends itself to numerous dimensions of ethical inquiry[ii]. As is often the case with major debates within science, the community of scientists are divided into two camps. The two camps are not necessarily antagonistic and in sharp opposition to each other’s . . . Read More
Enhancements are Integral to the Evolutionary Process
Buchanan raises a few valid points in support of selective enhancements. He argues that enhancement is an integral feature of human existence[i]. For example, there are over-the-counter memory enhancement pills that many use. Nobody blinks an eye, let alone bring ethical considerations, in this case. Likewise, one could even argue that basic education (literacy and numeracy) in itself endows an individual a marked advantage over someone who cannot read or count.[ii] This advantage is so profound that it has a bearing on critical parameters like life expectancy or quality of life. Such ‘enhancements’ are no different from those that are likely to be accomplished through the modern scientific methods of genetic engineering[iii]. Moreover, as Buchanan cogently states, even the natural process of evolution through natural selection is one of continuous enhancements. These enhancements, though, . . . Read More
Effects of BME on the Conventional Idea of Humanity, Human Relations, Intimacy and Reproductive Methods
In Agar’s well researched book he articulates an important reason why radical enhancements should be forbidden. He argues that the very idea of humanity is intrinsically linked to certain species-specific values and perspectives. These are contained in our culture, art, relationships and understanding of morality. For example a hallmark of good theatre is the apt combination of logos, pathos and ethos. The radical enhancement project aims to reduce or eliminate human capacity or necessity for all the three qualities. A human being’s range of expression in these areas is likely to be reduced after radical enhancement. Moreover, it is imperfections in human behavior and thought that give merit to the near-perfect accomplishments of high art and high culture[i]. By attempting to make humans ‘perfect’ something essential to humanity – . . . Read More
Ethical Issues Surrounding Sex Selection During or Prior to Conception
Whenever technological progress throws up great new possibilities there are also attendant ethical dilemmas relating to such possibilities. Such is the case with genetic engineering in general and human biomedical enhancement in particular. Allan Buchanan is well aware of some immediate pitfalls for society if BME is allowed unregulated[i]. One of the issues he raises is that of sex selection during pregnancy. In many parts of the world, especially in the developing world, there is a cultural and traditional bias toward male babies. From a sociological perspective a balance of equal population of male and female individuals is essential for the survival of the species.[ii] An unfettered BME system would totally skewer the sociological balance and may inadvertently set the species on a self-destructive spiral. Currently, at least as far as advanced industrial nations . . . Read More
The advent of cognitive science at the centre of studying psychology is widely portrayed to be a revolutionary event. It was in the 1950s that the shift from behaviourism to cognitive psychology took its first bold step. There has been no reverting back to behaviourism as the dominant paradigm within psychology ever since. Cognitive psychology is one of the disciplines in psychology that focuses on studying internal mental processes. How individuals perceive, conceive, recall from memory, articulate their views and arrive at conclusions, etc, are studied. As opposed to Behavioural psychology, Cognitive psychology adopts a scientific analytic method rather than introspective or speculative theorizing. At the outset, it acknowledges the presence of such internal mental states as knowledge, belief, motivation, desire, etc. This essay will evaluate how ‘revolutionary’ an event, in the Kuhnian sense, was the placement of cognitive science at the centre of . . . Read More
Almost two and a half millennia separate the ancient Greek version of Antigone (attributed to Sophocles) and its modern adaptation written by A.R. Gurney. The classic version is part of Sophocles’ trilogy of Theban plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The great Greek myth of Oedipus continues to be integral to the Western literary canon even today. Starting from 5th century B.C., various ancient writers of the Hellenistic era made references to Oedipus in their works. The modern adaptation for theatre by A.R. Gurney offers an interesting contextualization of heroine Antigone’s fight against authority. In both the cases, the theme is the same, one of confrontation of the individual will against a powerful authority figure. In Sophocles’ Antigone, this antagonist was Creon the King. In Gurney’s play it is the Professor in Classics Department George Henry Harper. But the nature of struggle of the two heroines is the same. This essay . . . Read More
The white whale Moby Dick can be looked at as a metaphor or an illusion. It is true that Ahab’s pursuit of it is real and the whale’s sightings by other ships equally honest. But the highly exceptional skin colour for a whale is a deliberate literary device employed by the author. What Melville is trying to convey is the ultimate futility and folly of Ahab’s stated mission. Though Moby Dick the white whale is real and its history well documented within the fiction, its very existence is highly improbable. Zoological knowledge concurs that white whales are very rare and elusive. This fact of nature throws light on the precarious and absurd mission of Ahab’s revenge. Not only is he hunting a dangerous beast of the wild oceans, but spotting and getting near it is highly dicey. Just as ancient myths are events that are plausible yet never true, Ahab’s mission is theoretically possible but is never likely to succeed. It is in this respect that myth is expressed in . . . Read More
News Corporation, under the leadership of Rupert Murdoch, has unparalleled power and reach in the news media industry. The Murdoch Empire spans several continents, with significant footholds in Australia, United States and the United Kingdom. Founded and headquartered in Australia, the company now boasts of being the number one newspaper publisher in the world, with a cumulative daily readership of 14 million in these three countries alone. Murdoch has a near monopoly in the media space in Australia, owning two-thirds of all newspaper circulation in the country. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, he owns nearly half. Further, he is the owner of two fifths of the Australian Associated Press. (Knowlton & Parsons, 1995, p. 200) These holdings are notwithstanding his considerable market share in Britain and the United States. These statistics bear testimony to the Murdoch’s media monopoly. Between the lines one can read the dangers . . . Read More
Plato’s Republic is one of the most influential works on political theory. The book is rich in logical deliberations and thought experiments in its endeavor to identify the ideal form of government for any society. Some of the ideas and theories articulated in the work include ‘theory of forms’, ‘definition of philosopher’, ‘immortality of the soul’, ‘metaphor of the sun’, ‘role of poetry in society’, ‘allegory of the cave’, etc. Of these, the most commented and profound idea is the ‘allegory of the cave’ that is presented in Book VII of the Republic.
The ‘allegory of the cave’ is a richly allusive and multiple layered illustration of the value, nature and consequence of knowledge. Though Plato is the author of the book, his role is one of committing to text the conversation between his mentor Socrates and his brother Glaucon. Socrates equates the darkness intrinsic to a cave to ignorance. To the contrary, the shining light is . . . Read More