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Archive for the ‘Mending the world’ Category

Saw this on Shaul B’s blog “free thought”.

[Click here to watch, if the video doesn’t show]

Made me think of the old paradoxes connected with free-will, pre-destination, time travel and the like. How far do the consequences go? What would happen if you were to fiddle with natural cause and effect?

More down to earth; how far does your responsibility go to mend the wrongs in the world? Can you at some point just pack your bags and run away? 

In the movie, I see the DJ as scared, even fearing for his sanity if he remains. Others may see him as a coward.

I believe he had two legitimate choices; either to fix everything or to dispair, return reality to its course and walk away. He could not leave the scene half fixed because then others would have suffered from his meddling. Once done he could leave because there is a limit to human capabilities.

A hasid (as a opposed to a zadik) would have stayed and cared for his street corner for the rest of his life.

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An article I saw in Technology Review. A researcher named Michel Maharbiz at the University of California, Berkeley has fitted out giant flower beetles like the one on the right with electrodes and a receiver. He can then fly them from a remote control connected to his laptop.

Dr. Haharbiz is very proud of his creations that he sees as having extensive military as well as hiumanitarian uses. The hardware on each beetle costs a mere $5 using off the shelf components that he grafts onto the creature using his expert knowledge of both biology and engineering to successfully mesh an animal’s nervous system.

I was reminded of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity. where he predicts that humans will become indistiguishable from robots within the next 50 years.

I think that this technological advance raises several ethical issues:

  1. The ability to perform ubiquitous and invisible surveillance has just taken a massive leap. While possible evil uses of a new technology has never been a good reason to prevent research, the possibility that every common fly could be spying on you and sending a constant video feed back to base is rather frightening.
  2. While I support the (controlled) use of animals for vital experimentation an I also eat animals, the idea of wiring and radio-controlling an animal for the advance of technology seems wrong to me. True the beetle has no self-consciousness and rudimentary senses, but all the same it doesn’t sound right.

What do you think?

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    recycleI just came back from the new Jerusalem recycling center . Not many people there, just the guy who looks after it and he looked kind of bored. He was very helpful. Looks like he has loads of time on his hands.

    The center is opposite the Herzog Hospital in Givat Shaul on the road that goes down to the cemetery. It is all nicely laid out with bins for paper, card, plastics, glass and a hut where you can leave electronics, books and clothes.

    Just not many users.

    I think this may be one of those things that if we don’t use it we’ll lose it, so get down there now with you recyclable garbage.

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    Today is Yom HaZikaron (memorial day) which is held the day before independence day – Yom HaAtzmaut.

    Much has been written about this almost impossible juxtaposition of grief next to rejoicing. The idea is that in order to rejoice we need to remember those who enabled our independence. A very beautiful idea and one that focuses the whole country on a day of national, often very sentimental, mourning. Everyone knows someone who has a close relative who has died in our never ending war from independence to this day. Thus the public mourning focuses not on the achievements and the heroism, but on the personal loss and tragedy of our best young men and women who we send to defend us.

    Most people work half day (except those who attend memorial ceremonies in the morning). I have the whole day off work, so I am making good use of the free time. The first thing I did this morning was to do my country a good turn and I collected up plastic bottles left on the badly kept path and undeveloped land next to our home. Five minutes work and I came back with a large bag bursting full of bottles.

    I made a resolution that when I go out walking at nights (another resolution I am trying to keep to), I will collect up at least once a week discarded bottles.

    The number of discarded bottles on the edges of undeveloped plots and under bushes on the side of the road never ceases to amaze me. Who drinks all these 1.5 liter bottles? Some of the ones around the park next to our house are left every night by kids who smoke nargilas there. We have a big problem with garbage in the park and although the city sends someone once a week to clean up, there is a lot of mess there.

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    I am currently reading a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – “To Heal a Fractured World, The Ethics of Responsibility“. I enjoy very much Rabbi Sacks’ writing as he is a big rationalist a thoughtful philosopher and a great writer.

    I read a passage yesterday in chapter 8 which is about darkei shalom (ways of peace) which is Judaism’s framework for doing good to people who are outside the covenantal community. He is discussing why we do not recite a berakha (blessing) before doing mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro (commands relating to interpersonal behavior). He discusses first the option that it is because the mitzva require two to do it (the giver and the receiver) and therefor no single person can recite a blessing. He reject this and goes on to discuss a more fundamental difference between mitzvot bein adam la-makom and bein adam le-haveiro. He writes the following:

    There is an obvious difference between the two types of command. In the case of commands between us and God, what matters is is the act and the intention with which it was performed… Intention gives the act the characteristic essential to a religious deed in Judaism, namely that it is a response to a command of God. For an act to be holy, it must be designated and dedicated as holy… In that minimalistic sense, intent is necessary.

    An act between us and another human being however has a different character. What matters is not the act but the result… The point of the command is its effect on th world, on the other person, not the transaction in the soul between the agent and God….An intention defines the nature of an act, but here what matters is not the act but its outcome.Kantian or Kierkergaardian purity of will is irrelevant. We are not commanded to give to the poor primarily for the salvation of our souls, but for the sake of the poor.

    His conclusion is that mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro are not blind decrees but universal rules of conduct, who “cause blessing” rather than needing a blessing and whose purpose is primarily in their effect.

    My problem with this is a contradiction with the answer to the basic qusetion of why the world is imperfect. This he relates to in chapter 6 where he discusses tikkun olam (mending the world). The world is imperfect in order to give us a purpose of trying to mend it and get to the perfection by ourselves. If the world was perfect (like if we had no free will) then it would have no purpose because God doesn’t need robots. If the purpose of mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro was just their effect then God would have done it himself.

    I would hold that while what he says is true, it is only one side. We are given mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro in order that we will do then and in perfecting the world also perfect ourselves. If I do a good deed and it is undermined in some way so that it’s effect isn’t full, it still has value in that it has changed me. Under this explanation the reason we don’t make a berakha is slightly more subtle. If I am doing an act that is supposed to refine me, then the last thing I want to do is to stand back a second and concentrate on my kavannot (intentions) and proudly proclaim “blessed is God who commanded me to do x”. Firstly, I may have second thoughts if I think about it too much, but more importantly it will promote a smug self-conscious satisfaction that destroys all the personal effect that the act will have on me.

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    By coincidence Climate Progress had a post yesterday about environmental action by faith communuities in the US. I looked at one of the links – lo-Watt Shabbat. Not amazingly exciting. I’m looking for an halakhically acceptable solution for wasting less electricity keeping an urn of hot water and a hot-plate heated over Shabbat.

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    Why are religious people so often so totally ungreen? A post appeared recently on the “Beit Shemesh List” decrying the total lack of awareness in Ramat Beit Shemesh for civic cleanliness. The post was worded in a haredi rhetoric style but embedded in the post are a point that I have thought about for a while:

    We call ourselves religious people, and we allow our neighbors to desecrate Hashem’s Holy Land? We write graffitti that calls for people to dress “tzniusly” but don’t mind the fact that it is written on the walls of our neighbor’s homes?

    Shouldn’t preserving the environment be way up top of any religious person’s values and their to-do list? If you really and fervently believe that the world is God’s creation then where is the care for looking after his handiwork? The answer to the conundrum comes I think is that environmentalism isn’t on the map not only because its new and hadash assur min hatorah (sic), but also because this is just another case of mixed up priorities and lost direction.

    They’re spend all their energies looking for imaginary bugs in strawberries, fussing over supposed sexual improprietary on mixed seated buses and in even in the mixed sex government that is causing the world economic recession, bothering over what shirt other people wear to play ball on Shabbat afternoon and generally getting worked up over unimportant things. They have no time left for looking after the land that is “palatin shel melech” that “aynay hashem bah me-reshit ha-shana ad akharit shana”. Hashem yishmor or just let the hiloinim worry about all that goyim naches.

    Traditionally Israel has been more excited about development than conservation and environmentalists are still this day considered reactionary wimps standing in the way of progress. Real halutzim have no time for wimps. It is interesting though that conservatives and patriots the world over seem to have this same problem. I would have thought that near on if not number one on the list for any patriot should be preserving the environment of his beloved country.

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