Monday, October 28, 2013

Viewer's Guide to the ISS

Did you know the International Space Station is easily visible to the naked eye? In fact, at it's brightest, it can outshine Venus! The problem is that it moves very fast (17,130 mph) so you need to know when to look, or you'll miss it.

So, how do you know when the ISS will be overhead? One great resource is Heavens-Above. It will tell you exactly when the ISS will be visible, how long it will be visible for, and where in the sky it will be. It also has information on lots of other satellites and other things of astronomical interest.

But sometimes it will be months before the ISS passes over your location at night. You'll need some kind of reminder after that long. That's the purpose of Spot The Station. Sign up for it, and it will send you an email 12 hours before the next sighting.

There are also apps for mobile devices that are very useful. A good one I just got is ISS Detector.

Also worth mentioning is Wolfram|Alpha. It's less practical for finding good viewings, but it has lots of interesting information. Not just about the ISS, not just about satellites, not just about astronomy, it knows about pretty much everything.

So, go out and look at the sky. It's an awesome place.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ode to the ISS

Tonight, I saw a point of light in the sky.

It could have been a burning ball of hydrogen, millions of miles across, and trillions of miles away. But I knew it wasn't a star, because it was much too bright.

It could have been a ball of rock, brightly reflecting sunlight off its clouds of acid. But I knew it wasn't Venus, because it was moving much too quickly.

It could have been a bit of dust, falling to the earth a hundred times as fast as a speeding bullet. But I knew it wasn't a meteor, because it lasted much too long.

It was a structure the size of a football field, made of aluminum, titanium and silicon, over two hundred miles above our heads, always falling, but always missing the ground, current home to six. It was the International Space Station.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hypothetical Imperatives

In my last few posts about morality, I've been pretty confident about my conclusions. From here on out, it will start getting more speculative. Some of my ideas may have merit, some may not. Please, tell me what you think about what I got right, and what should be changed.

In my last post, I asked how you could derive "ought" from "is". For a certain type of "ought" that's not hard at all. That type of "ought" that is a course of action to accomplish a given goal. For example, if  your goal is to lose weight, you ought to eat less fat. It is possible to empirically observe and test that to see if it effectively achieves the goal. This type of "ought" is called a hypothetical imperative and it's existence is the logical consequence of the existence of goals.

But is that the type of "ought" we're interested in? If we're talking about morality, shouldn't we be talking about something that's objective, and independent of individual goals?

One way of being independent of individual goals is to relate to all goals. If there were such a course of action, you would clearly want to follow it, because it would be a way to achieve your goals, regardless of what your goals are. But it's clear that there is no course of action to accomplish any goal. No matter what course of action you propose, you can come up with a goal counter to it. For example. you can't say that you should never steal to accomplish any goal, because that doesn't effectively achieve the goal of stealing.

Another way of being independent of individual goals is to not relate to goals at all. But in that case, why should you follow such a course of action? That approach seems to fall headlong back into the problem we're trying to answer. There's no apparent way to derive such an "ought" from an "is".

So are we back where we started? Unable to connect morality to reality? Well, not necessarily. We failed to find a special kind of "ought" that in independent on individual goals. But we did find the hypothetical imperative, which is a kind of "ought". Maybe it's the only "ought" we need. Maybe morality can be built entirely out of hypothetical imperatives. Again the question remains: How?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Is-Ought Problem

In my last post, I asked what empirical observations you would be able to make that would be different if morality existed than if it did not. Some of you may have objected that that defies the is-ought problem.

Hume said that you can't derive "ought" statements from "is" statements alone. That is, you cannot determine what is moral or how the world should be just from how the world is. For example, suppose a runaway trolley is heading toward people who are tied to the track. There is a lever, which if pulled will divert the trolley onto another track, where it will cause no harm. Those facts alone are not enough to conclude that you ought to pull the lever. You can only conclude that if you add another "ought" statement to the premise, such as, "You ought to save lives.".

If Hume is correct, then morality is not observable in any way. Which would mean either that morality does not exist, or that morality is meaningless. Either way, it would be completely pointless to talk about morality.

So why are we talking about it? For that matter, why would anyone ever talk about it? No one ever talks about unobservable flergamarms, why would they talk about unobservable morality? Why would they even come up with the idea? Maybe people are just hopelessly confused. Or maybe Hume is wrong. Maybe ought can be derived from is. The question remains: How?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Does Morality Exist?

Does morality exist?

Well, what do you mean by morality? Keep in mind that an answer like "Morality is what is good." or "Morality is what is right." don't really answer the question. That just shoves the ambiguity onto another word. What you need is an explanation that breaks it down and really clarifies it.

If you're not sure how to answer that (and I'm not), the next thing to do is look at what you can observe. What empirical observations would you be able to make that would be different if morality did exist than if it did not?

So, what do you think?