Serendipity, the Little Creature of Accidental Discovery

I have a bad feeling about growing up. Or, rather that image of growing up that translates into putting aside games, animations and movies. That image that means no sense of wonder and imagination. I already had made a post about how games could be useful as technologies some time ago, but something happened that made me come up with another argument in defence of imagination.

There are numerous videos about games, Sci-fi movies and animations, and comic books and anime on YouTube, and I follow some of them. Sometimes however, when a particular video about, say, a certain Sci-fi subject (game, movie or animation) is published, some commenters keep saying “This is pointless, you people should grow up” or simply “get a life”.

Aside from the fact that even games have proven to be useful, there is one notion that should make us reject this mindset of growing up, and that is scientific “serendipity”: the sweet little creature of accidental discovery…

The discovery of Penicillin for example is one of those happy accidents in science, the discovery of X-rays was also a serendipity. But my favourite example of these accidental discoveries is the discovery of chemical structure of Benzene: Friedrich Kekule found the structure in a dream, in which he saw Carbon atoms going in a circle and forming a ring.

Benzene (Source: Wikipedia)

The most important thing that gives serendipity wings is our own imagination. If we keep rejecting dreams, we may never find out new things. This I believe is what gives credit to this statement from Einstein: “Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

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One Year and Nine Days

Almost five days ago I remembered that I started this blog almost a year ago, with this post, a version of Euthyphro dilemma rejecting the notion of morality based on God. I had written it back when I was still in the Middle East, and I thought making this blog could be a way to put it out there.

I wanted to make this post sooner as a review of what I had done, but one promise to myself was not to posts too many posts for a day, and instead I published “Morality, Superheroes and the Case for the Right Thing“.

As my tag cloud shows, I have written something around 60 posts on different subjects, most of it about Atheism, logic, religion and science. Some of my posts are the results of small essays that I wrote for my university projects, and some are simply my thoughts on different matters.

I also wish to say thank you to those who read and commented on my posts. Some have been helpful in pointing out my mistakes, some have encouraged me, and some have been amusingly bashful and illogical.

There are some blogs which I have to mention. I have linked some of them on my blogroll: “The Atheist Blogroll” was the first blog to link me as I sent my request to Joe, who updates and moderates it. It has not shown much activity in the recent two months but I hope it will remain active.

The firs blog that I commented on was “The Floating Lantern“, which Tim Martin moderates, and you can see Tim has also had some comments on some of my posts and I thank him for that.

windupmyskirt” and “Random Ntrygg” have been both great readers and commenters, and great writers which I have followed with enthusiasm. “A is for atheist” has been on my recommended list for a very long time, for a good reason: Logic, logic and even more logic. There is much to learn there and I shall recommend her blog yet again.

In the end, there are some who need to be linked and paid more attention to. The good “Doctor Bad Sign” and “A Lonely Philosopher” are those.

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I hope to keep this blog running, mostly for the sake of myself, and hopefully for a small contribution to conversation and reason.

Morality, Superheroes and the Case for the Right Thing

It was the night, but not a silent one: screams and cries of hundreds of people could be heard from all over Gotham city. Batman, standing on the tallest point of Wayne tower, sighed. The Joker had escaped; again. It was going to be a long long night.

The thought of writing this post came to me after I watched “The Dark Night Rises”. (Have in mind that although the next sentence is most likely expected by those who will watch it, but it is a spoiler nonetheless): There is a scene at almost the end of the movie, in which Catwoman (played by Anne Hathaway) kills Bane (Tom Hardy), saving Batman’s (Christian Bale) life, and immediately telling him: “About the whole no guns thing, I’m not sure I feel strongly about it as you do.”

She is of course referring to the fact that Batman does not kill criminals, no matter how “evil” they are, and obviously would not allow other “vigilante superheroes” to do so either (e.g. Catwoman). This phenomenon of course is the underlying theme of almost every superhero movie and cartoon ever made (for example my favourite one the justice league), and though I’m not very familiar with the original comic books, I’m positively sure the same theme happens there as well.

I believe that this poses a very interesting moral dilemma, that shows the conflict between individual-right-based ethics and consequentialist ethics. The question is, should Batmen kill Joker (Should a superhero kill a super villain)?  But there is even a better question: Is Batman doing something wrong by not killing the Joker?

Justice demands it

There is a common perception among people (religious or not) about justice, which is very close to the notion of “An eye for an eye”. Although in recent years and under the influence of social activists this perception has changed in some cases (for example capital punishment by death based on “A life for a life”), still most people think it is justified to retaliate an action with the same opposite: “you destroy my property, I destroy yours”.

This is not the position that most (if any) philosophers take in ethical issues. And the reason is simple, I think most people would agree that two wrongs will not make a right. In more sophisticated terms, this notion cannot be justified in any of the moral theories we know and we use as the “right” thing to do. Looking closely at the issue, we can see that there is an equivocation between “revenge” and “justice” in such perception.

therefore, based on that argument, no matter how many people the Joker “has” killed, Batman cannot justify killing him based on the idea of “An eye for an eye”.

Killing is wrong, period

If one asks Batman himself why he does not kill the Joker, his answer will most likely be in form of a moral code: Killing is bad, because it is bad. It seems most of the time that it is taken as it is given, without any justification behind it. But occasionally even the comic book characters need to give a better reason. This is the case for “Under the Red Hood”, with the following dialog (Extracted from IMDB):

Batman: You don’t understand. I don’t think you’d ever understood.
Jason Todd: What? What, your moral code just won’t allow for that? It’s too hard to cross that line?
Batman: No. God Almighty, no. It’d be too damned easy. All I’ve ever wanted to do is kill him. A day doesn’t go by I don’t think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he’s dealt out to others and them end him.
Joker: Aw. So you do think about me.
Batman: But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I’ll never come back.

Of course, Batman is talking about revenge, not justice; but this is a crucial point: Where should a superhero stop? The argument here is a superhero (or no one for that matter) is in a position to decide about the lives of others, no matter who they are or they have done, simply because no one is capable of escaping the “corruption” it brings to them. They fear they will never come back.

Well, although this seems still an unsatisfying argument, we can see it as a moral code: “Killing is wrong, period”.

The case of “What if?”

In history of Batman comics, Joker has proven special. He has escaped the infamous “Arkham Asylum” numerous times (I dare say double digit, in games, cartoons, books and films), and each time has killed more people. A consequentialist (or Utilitarian) argument could be made that simply the cost of having Joker around is going to be much higher than the cost of simply “ending him”. The reason for that is Joker is most likely (as far as the Joker goes, definitely) going to kill much more than he already has. This argument is not about what he has done in the past, it is about what he is most likely to do (or will do) in the future.

If we look at the case from the consequentialist perspective, “Not” killing the Joker will be the wrong doing. At least at the point that Batman’s knowledge of him reviles the fact that he (the Joker) will kill more people in the future. I believe that many of us intuitively would agree to this notion. If someone presents us with the case of “Someone has a time machine, should s/he kill Hitler?”, I think many of us (most of us?) will agree to that.

Now comes the hard question: “Someone has a time machine, should s/he kill baby Hitler? Or Hitler’s mother?” Should one kill the source of “potential” crimes against humanity?

The case of reality

I think that Batman in fact “should” kill the Joker, since not only there is no guarantee that he will kill more people, but also it is highly likely. But in reality, or a more practical sense, the case is not as easy as it seems. Most criminals cannot escape prison and remain there. Even if they do escape, at least it is not repeatedly (unless of course they are Steven Jay Russell).

Also, our ability to judge the future actions of a sane person is highly untrustworthy (remember that the Joker was completely insane). It is possible that a person actually changes his/her behaviour, and it seems justifiable to give them “a second chance”, not just “end them”.

In the end, there is an irony in Batman’s story: It seems that Batman has done more or less the wrong thing in the context of his own story, while in reality basing one’s actions in such a way that takes not killing to be a virtue seems the right way to be. Batman has done the wrong thing, but has given the right message.

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P.S. This discussion can go much more deeper than this. As I was writing it, I knew there’s a lot more to say on this subject which are ignored here.