Friday, April 25, 2008

Contemplation vs. Destruction

A preliminary word: for the most part, I am starting at the beginning of Dinosaur Comics, and working my way forward. The advantage to this is that most of them are so old that you have probably forgotten about them. The comic I'm writing about today? More than FIVE YEARS OLD! From time to time, though, I might "mix it it up," and comment on a comic that is only a few days old.


This comic seems to set up a dichotomy between living one's life to its full potential, and living a life of contemplation. The two things, in fact, go hand in hand: one's life can only reach its full potential by including some amount of contemplation and reflection.

More appropriately, Utahraptor's question is about whether T-Rex is better off contemplating than he is destroying. Under most ethical systems, the answer is, "Yes, you are better off contemplating than destroying." You can spell this out in any number of ways. Questions in ethics usually center around when it is okay to do something that seems to be bad. Usually, it has to be for a good cause, and the more immediate that cause, the better. Killing someone who is right in the middle of killing other people? Go for it. Killing thousands of people as part of your plan for a utopia? Not so much. An end does not justify its means; the means have to be able to justify themselves.

Now, if you ask someone like an egoist (think only about yourself) or an Objectivist (do what's in your self interest), they will tell you different. But nobody asks them much anyway, because they're usually assholes.

There is a third thing going on here: T-Rex is "living life to the max" by being more conscious of the experiences of his day, and consequently having a greater appreciation for them. The sentiment of this is understandable, but it takes far more concentration and brain power. It is said, though, that this is what Buddhist enlightenment is like, a constant experience of the now.

As to whether dinosaurs have souls... I'm not going there.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Inaugural post: on the philosophical necessity of dinosaurs being awesome

(My goal with this blog is to talk about the philosophical subjects that are explored in Dinosaur Comics. Today, though, I am going to be talking about something tangential.)

It is a widely accepted fact that dinosaurs are awesome, both in the objective sense of "inspiring awe", and in the colloquial sense of being "hella wicked, dude" (or whatever the slang du jour happens to be). If you ever need to know what to buy a young child, be it male or female, you cannot go wrong with something dinosaur-related.

Thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that it is necessary that dinosaurs are awesome (i.e., in all possible worlds, dinosaurs are awesome). As I explored the subject, complications set in at every turn. Would I have to backpedal into something tautologous, like, "Dinosaurs are awesome in every possible world in which they are awesome"? Let us then consider the reasons that dinosaurs are awesome.

The first is that most of them are really big, far larger than any living creature we have seen. The apatosaurus was 75 feet long, the largest known land animal to have ever existed, and most other dinosaurs people can name are larger than any other animal alive today.

The second is that dinosaurs have qualities we do not see in other animals alive today. Many of them, such as stegosaurus and triceratops, look like something out of a mad scientist's laboratory. And nodosaurus? COVERED IN SPIKES! They all have this fantastic quality about them, with the added virtue that, unlike fantasy creatures, they once existed.

Reason number "two and a half" here is that dinosaurs evolved into birds. I say "half" here because it is a crapshoot whether any given person will find this to be interesting. It is not quite as important as the above two reasons, so I won't consider it further.

So, now that we have established why dinosaurs are awesome, it stands to reason that dinosaurs would not be awesome just in case reasons 1 and 2 above were not true, or were unimpressive.

Reason 1 could not fail to be impressive, because of the sheer size of some of the largest dinosaurs. Even if humans were twice as big as they are today, they would still be dwarfed in comparison to the brachiosaurs. So, dinosaurs might not be awesome if they happened to be not incredibly* huge.

But this wouldn't matter if reason 2 were still true, and still impressive. If a triceratops were roughly the size of a komodo dragon... it would still be pretty awesome. So the fantastic features of dinosaurs would have to pale in comparison to the other things around, perhaps in comparison to some Lovecraftian horror. This leads us into further questions of biology, about whether it would be possible for dinosaurs to evolve into something even more awesome. The point is fairly moot, so I will put it outside of consideration.

Practically speaking, then, reasons 1 and 2 cannot fail to be impressive by themselves, and become more impressive when combined with each other. This means that dinosaurs are awesome in all possible worlds in which they are quantitatively similar to the way they are in this world. Now, dinosaurs are natural kinds, so if natural kinds are rigid designators (and this is a contentious point), then it is necessary that dinosaurs are awesome. Q.E.D.

* - This word can be taken in the classical sense of "unable to be believed," since it describes most people's initial reactions to the largest dinosaurs. "I don't believe it!" "Well, we have here a vertebra that is 1.3 m in length." "No wai!"