Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Mystery of Consciousness

David B. Hart begins a fine meditation on the mystery of consciousness by recounting the story of a personal tragedy:
I was fairly close to both Angela and Jacob throughout our teens; at least, we were all part of the same circle. I briefly entertained the hope of something closer between Angela and myself, and for a few weeks she was more or less my girlfriend; but Jacob “swept her off her feet,” and they were at one school and I at another, so I had no chance. It made no difference to our friendship, though.

Unfortunately, I largely lost touch with Angela when I started attending university. Over the course of the next six months, we crossed one another’s paths only three times or so. On the last occasion, she had just returned from a visit to Paris, from which she had brought home, among other things, the PlĂ©iade edition of Montaigne she proudly showed me.

And that was that. Two and a half years later she was killed when a drunk driver struck her car in an intersection; she was alive for several hours after the collision, but never regained consciousness. That was twenty-five years ago tomorrow.
Be sure to read the rest of his essay at First Things. His review of Marilynne Robinson's new book, Absence of Mind, is also worth checking out if one is interested in the question of consciousness and the implications it holds for the materialist's belief that all we are is a lump of atoms arranged in a particular pattern.

There are at least five facts about human beings that militate against this view. Philosophers refer to them as intentionality, qualia, incorrigibility, exclusive access, and freedom of the will. A brief paper by Michael Egnor will be helpful to those who wish to explore exactly what philosophers mean by these terms.

The Chimera of Mideast Peace

Every president thinks it incumbent upon him to at least try to bring peace to the Middle East. This is a noble aspiration but a fool's errand. There never will be peace in the Middle East until either the Israelis or the Palestinians cease to exist. Every concession forced upon Israel is simply seen by the Palestinians as a sign that victory is in the offing. The Palestinians don't want peace as the West understands the word. They want the complete destruction of Israel as a state and the Jews as a people.

This is the point of a recent article in Strategy Page:
The goal of the peace talks is to work out how to establish an independent Palestinian state. Israel agrees with that goal, but the Palestinians don't, at least among themselves. That's why these peace talks tend to go nowhere. The latest talks are doomed by the fact that many Palestinians in the West Bank openly oppose them, and the Islamic radical group Hamas that runs the Gaza Strip (which contains 40 percent of Palestinians) refuse to cooperate in the talks. Hamas and Fatah-controlled media both talk of destroying Israel, not making permanent peace. Any peace deals are strictly tactical moves to further the ultimate goal of wiping Israel off the map. All Palestinian maps of the area already do that.

For the last two generations, it has been Palestinian policy to preach the destruction of Israel, not coexistence. Increasingly, over the last few decades, Palestinians have been indoctrinated with anti-Semitic propaganda, which encourages the young to become suicide bombers and terrorists. This is a very public campaign, and the terrorist killers are showered with praise in the media. In the Palestinian territories, there are hundreds of places (streets, squares, buildings) and events named after terrorists.

Anyone who has killed an Israeli is a hero, and anyone who died trying is worthy of admiration. This goes beyond honoring "war heroes." The propaganda campaign portrays Palestinians as in a life-or-death struggle with "the Zionist entity" (what Palestinians like to call Israel). Since God is on their side, the Palestinian propaganda pushes the idea that it's only a matter of time before Israel is destroyed. It's tough to negotiate a peace deal when one side has this attitude.
It's also tough to sell your fellow Palestinians on a genuine peace settlement that allows Israel to continue to exist when so many of their loved ones have willingly sacrificed their lives in the cause of eradicating Israel.

As long as there are Jews living in the midst of Palestinian Muslims any peace between them will be ephemeral and chimerical. The sooner our politicians recognize what everyone in the region already knows, the better it will be for everyone involved.