“…branding on my forehead: SLAVE”

I’ve finished reading the book Bruce Levine’s book “The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South”. It’s excellent. I find it especially curious how the plantation-slaveowner elite reacted to the war. It was a war waged on their behalf, a war waged so that they could continue owning slaves. But after the first few months to a year, they could not be bothered to do much to support the war effort, something that some Confederates themselves found rather odd.

They exempted their sons from the military draft with the “Twenty Negro Law”, they were not willing to grow much grain or sell it at low prices, and they were not very willing to hire out their slaves for tasks like building fortifications. The poorer Confederate citizens ended up grumbling that they were fighting for people who were clearly not doing as much as they could. “A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” That sentiment was especially strong in parts of the South with relatively few slaves. Western Virginians succeeded in seceding from their state, but eastern Tennesseeans’ attempt to do so was crushed by the Confederate Army.

Consider the case of South Carolina plantation owner, politician, and slavery defender James Henry Hammond. He argued that the slaves were very suited for doing the work that they were made to do, that they were better off enslaved than free, and that higher civilization rests on the labors of an underclass of people that never get much for their labor — the “mudsill theory” of society. But when a Confederate army officer stopped by to requisition some grain, he tore up the requisition order, tossed it out a window, and wrote about it that it compensated him too little, and that it was like

branding on my forehead


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WFF ‘N Proof, a mathematical-logic game

“WFF ‘N Proof, the Game of Modern Logic”, is a game that I had had in my childhood, though I now only have its rulebook. A WFF (“woof”) is a well-formed formula, one that is syntactically correct, and in the game, one creates proofs with inference rules. The game has dice with operation and variable names on them, and one tries to find WFF’s and proofs that fit what is on the dice. The game also includes an hourglass for timed play.

It was created by Layman Allen in 1962, and he has also created On-Sets, on set theory, and Equations, on arithmetic, both played much like WFF ‘N Proof.

I wish that I could recommend WFF ‘N Proof, but it has several deficiencies.

  • It uses a prefix representation for its binary operators, (and) p q, with no attempt to relate it to the more usual infix form, p (and) q.
  • It does not use the logical constants (true) and (false), and it does not have truth tables, tables of output values for input values (arguments).
  • It does not name the operator properties that it has proofs of, like (and) and (or) being commutative and associative.

After the fold, I will describe the formalism in WFF ‘N Proof in more detail.

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Transcendental Future Orientation

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo has proposed that much of our attitudes can be explained by our time orientation. Are we oriented to the past? The present? The future? Is our orientation positive? Or negative? That is, do we think about good things or bad things? He explains what he means at his site, The Time Paradox.

That site has an odd time orientation: Transcendental Future. He even has a quiz about it: Transcendental-future Time Perspective Inventory (TTPI). Continue reading

Time Orientation by Philip Zimbardo

Philip Zimbardo is a psychologist who has worked on what can make “normal” people turn bad (the Stanford Prison Experiment and his book “The Lucifer Effect”), and he has an interesting proposal of how much of our attitudes can be explained as time orientation. I first found out about it from his talk at the 2008 Beyond Belief conference; he shows some slides that give correlations of his time orientations with various personality factors.

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Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Around World War II, psychologist Abraham Maslow decided to consider mentally healthy people, to balance out study of mental pathologies. In 1943, he published his conclusions in “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. He proposed that we have a hierarchy of needs, from the physiological to the transcendent: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – Wikipedia, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology, Abraham Maslow and Happiness, What Is Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy?

This hierarchy is often depicted as layers of a pyramid. From bottom to top:

  1. Physiological: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
  2. Safety: security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, property
  3. Love and Belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy
  4. Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
  5. Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts

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Isaac Asimov on Searching for Information

In my earlier post, “Books: The Ancient and Ultimate Document Viewer?”, I had commented on Isaac Asimov’s belief that that’s what physical books are, and I had pointed out some important deficiencies of them. One of them is searchability. But IA himself had written on this problem.

n 1955, he wrote “The Sound of Panting” (in “Only a Trillion”). The panting that he described was for him as he tried to keep up with the biochemistry literature.

In 1964, he wrote Asimov Suggests Science of Data | News | The Harvard Crimson

Science’s rapid accumulation of data, Asimov said, has created the need for a new branch of science, information retrieval. The new field, he said, should attempt to make the data scientists need available to them simply “by pushing the right button.”

Regaling his audience with a Jackie Masonesque style, Asimov then launched into a lengthy example of how Mendel’s theories of heredity were overlooked for a generation, the delay producing misconceptions that may ultimately have led to two world wars.

He also wrote about that in one of his science essays.

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Books: The Ancient and Ultimate Document Viewer?

Isaac Asimov once wrote an essay called “The Ancient and the Ultimate” (collected in “The Tragedy of the Moon” and “Asimov on Science”). He wrote it in response to the notion that some high-tech document viewer like video cassettes might someday replace books. He considers what might be the ultimate document viewer. One that is totally powered by its user, that does not need any external energy source, that is very portable, and that is very unobtrusive. He asks when we might get such a viewer.

I have an answer for that, too, and a quite definite one. We will have it in minus five thousand years–because what I have been describing… is a book!

Or is it?

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