Archive for February, 2012

The Great Good; A No-Win Scenario With An Infinite Number of Possibilities and A Single Outcome

It’s a common psychological experiment; imagine you’re a conductor of a train throttling down a set of tracks whose end features three workers. You cannot stop the train, but what you can do is reroute the train to a set of tracks with only one worker. What do you do? Rather, consider the answer for a moment while i pose another question; you have the capability of creating a utopian universe, and all you have to do is end the life of the infant of a single species on Earth. Do you kill the child, or do you spare it, knowing that not doing so costs the universe a state of paradise and bliss? What do you do? Rather, consider the answer for a moment while I pose another question; you’re out fishing with your spouse and child when the boat starts sinking. You can only save two people on the boat, including yourself, so what do you do?

No, really. What do you do? Do you follow logic and save the lives of the many over the lives of the few? Do you carry out Spock’s utilitarian philosophy and adhere to the arbitrary rules of a mind game? Do you refuse to answer, all the while knowing in your heart that you’ve just found yourself ranking the importance of the closest people in your life? Or do you point out the inherent flaws in playing such a game, all the while forcing yourself to accept the truth that, for a moment, you considered ending the life of an infant to insure the perfection of your universe? Again I ask, what do you do?

The decisions must be made immediately, and under every circumstance, regardless of the choice you make, lives will be lost, and a sense of failure will creep into your mind. This is a fact, regardless of how many lives you may save, there are others that have been discarded, and almost disregarded in an act of cold hearted logic. Or perhaps not; perhaps the choice you made was to save the lives of the few over the lives of the many, rationalizing that doing so was the best possible option under a set of arbitrary rules and guidelines you’ve suddenly developed. Or perhaps you’ve decided to not act; after all, the only choice that guarantees victory is to not play at all. In this circumstance, all guilt is absolved, as you’ve understood your situation, accepted your fate, in addition to the fates of those around you. Except, for a moment, your situation once again finds itself at the beginning, since you (under no circumstance) have the right to decide the fates of anyone but yourself. You, despite being the person in control, have no right to decide who lives and who dies. No human being, no being, no single intellectual creation, has such a right. So again I ask, what do you do?

For a moment, however, I must mention Spock again. The logical Vulcan Science Offer on the Starship Enterprise within the fictional Star Trek universe (and later an ambassador for the Star Fleet Federation, and an all around cultural icon), Spock is the definition of cold, intelligent, unfeeling logic. As an example of his dominance over petty emotions, the Vulcan designed the Kobayashi Maru exercise, which places the participant in a no win scenario, similar to the situations outlined above. The willing participant is placed in the position of the captain of a vessel that receives a distress signal from a civilian ship in a neutral zone. The captain is left with two choices; they can either save the Kobayashi Maru, and start a war by violating the sanctions of the neutral zone, or ignore the distress signal and lose the passengers on the Kobayashi Maru all while avoiding hostility and a potential war. The test forces the captain to act in a no win scenario, where their choice consistently leaves them with lives lost. The only difference is that the test also places the captain in harm’s way, forcing them to also consider and include their own lives as a potential loss.

The test is impossible to beat. Simply put, one cannot pass the Kobayashi Maru, as it is designed to place the participant in a state of absolute terror, where the test taker is judged on their ability to perform under absolute pressure, knowing that regardless of what they do, lives (potentially their own) will be lost. Interestingly, like the aforementioned exercises (with the train, the boat, and the baby), the Kobayashi Maru is also simulated; the test is taken under controlled (often entirely computer simulated) conditions and apart from the test taker, and a few extras (who are often cadets, or real officers, just wasting time), nothing else is real. There is no real danger, there is no real choice to be made, and there are no real lives hanging in the balance. Despite these facts, however, the test taker is forced into a position to act like the test is real, and any action they make is treated like it will have actual repercussions, which it often does, as the Kobayashi Maru acts as a buffer for potential officers. Essentially, if any Federation member wants to become an officer in the Star Trek universe, the Kobayashi Maru will, no doubt, serve as their final test. To test the merits of cadets, and potential officers, the exercise challenges the participant on every conceivable level; for the purpose of this article, the test serves to ask the same question: lives are in the balance, so what do you do?

Truthfully, I’ve thought about the Kobayashi Maru far more than Dostoyevsky’s conundrum (with the baby), or the train car dilemma, and I’ve actually given the least thought to the fishing trip paradigm, as the answer seems simple to me: sacrifice myself for the betterment of my two marine loving companions. The Kobayashi Maru it seems to be the scenario that is the most defined; There are few choices I can make, and all of them result in the loss of lives, so to save the most lives, I would ignore the signal sent by the Kobayashi Maru, avoid war with a violent and blood thirsty enemy (the Klingons, in the Star Trek example), lose the lives of the passengers, but save the lives of my ship’s crew. By making my choice, I subject the crew of the Kobayashi Maru to certain death, as there is nothing that anyone else can do to save them; however, I save the lives of my ship’s crew, and the lives of many other Federation crews since I’ve avoided war. In short, logic dictates that the only answer is to avoid losing far more lives to save those of a single ship’s crew.

That being said, there is no such thing as a no-win scenario; certainly, it often appears the be the case that a decision is forced upon us where victory is impossible to ascertain, and these scenarios often force us to make choice “for the greater good,” but I reject these conditions entirely. The Kobayashi Maru is not real, and any philosophical query that forces a participant to make a fictional choice where fictional lives are lost is not real. The Greater Good queries are designed to force a person to think about what they hold important, and what they truly consider to be the “best and only” option. In essence, the Greater Good query is designed to make a person think, and this is ultimately achieved once an individual so much as reflects on the possibilities. The concepts of altruism, logic, egotism, equality, fairness, and judgement are only some of the infinite thoughts that one is expected to experience if a real no-win scenario were to present itself.

The Greater Good query isn’t designed to be answered immediately either; regardless of what one believes, once an individual tries to answer a TGG query in the fastest possible way, they have already failed the test. Simply trying to deliver the most logical answer is also pointless since a no-win scenario requires an emotional response, and psychological consideration. Logic certainly is everything, but what is and isn’t logical depends entirely on the situation at hand, and the repercussions that a decision will have. Simply going for the least lives lost teaches nothing and, more often than not, solves nothing, which leads to the most important point.

TGG queries have no solution; yes, a person can answer the question in whichever way they please, but there is no right or wrong answer. That, in essence, is what makes the Kobayashi Maru such an important test; when a no-win scenario manages to make itself evident in a real life example, there is no right answer during. It’s only afterwards, when one looks back and thinks about their choice and the choices they could have made does the truth become clear: there is no right answer to a no-win scenario, it all depends on how one thinks about it.

This, I suppose, is the idea that should be gathered: there is no right answer to a no-win scenario, apart from thinking. Once one thinks, and truly considers the problem, they have passed (regardless of how many fictional lives are lost in the process).

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

The Past, The Present, and The Future; Histories, Gifts, and Mysteries

The past, present, and future is always on my mind; the mere act of picking one beverage over the other leaves me wondering about the alternate possibilities, in addition to the outcomes that will no longer occur, all the while neglecting to consider that I’ve already chosen my beverage. Certainly, I can return my selection for an alternate one, though this only leaves me wondering about the possibilities had I not done so. I’ve noticed that reflecting on my past occurs in a similar way; I ponder and consider my choices up until the moment, and I wonder (sometimes aloud, other times not) whether the choices I’ve made have been right or wrong, and whether or not I’d have been happier making a different choice. I’ve noticed that the question of “would I be happier” is the one that I often try to answer.

I’ve considered multiple answers to this one question, based on a series of determined and predetermined results, and the truth of the matter is that no answer is satisfactory. Whether or not we would be happy based on an event that has already occurred is a redundancy and fallacy that must be ignored entirely. Once an event has occurred, the only path remaining is in a forward direction, towards the next event. In a way, that’s where the trouble with the past comes from; we think about the past so much that we neglect the possibility of the present, and the concept of the future is avoided entirely. Instead of reflecting on our past to learn for the future, we paralyze ourselves into a state of fear, avoiding the possibilities of existing anywhere else.

Interestingly, it wasn’t Frasier that brought this to my attention so much as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. For those unaware of the novel’s existence The Dark Knight Returns (hereby shortened to TDKR, not to be confused with The Dark Knight Rises), is a miniseries, written by the aforementioned Miller, that has Bruce Wayne reclaim the mantle of Batman after retiring for 10 years. His reasons are simple and straightforward; after fighting the criminal elements of Gotham City for so long, it is no longer Bruce Wayne who wears the mask of Batman, but Batman who wears the mask of Bruce Wayne. In this way, the death of Wayne’s parents (an event that places itself a minimum of 40 years in the past, during the events of TDKR) also marks the death of Wayne’s character, and the birth of Batman’s.

This is a statement that has been made by almost every major critic of the Batman mythos, and it can argued that it is the most true (if not the most important). Before I continue, however, I must make it abundantly clear that Batman is not a healthy human being. Certainly, the character is frequently seen at his physical and mental peak, and though he poses an intellect far greater than my own, it is impossible to state that he, as a character, is mentally “healthy.” Most importantly, the root of his mental imbalance is not sexual repression, as a Freudian doctor inaccurately reasons in TDKR, but his inability to let go of his past, in addition to his inability to move beyond the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. In this way, it must be stated that to Batman, a single moment defines every single aspect of his present; this is a truth that is applicable to every superhero. A single event in the past of every comic book superhero accounts for every action and decision they make in their futures, and the same cannot be said for human beings existing outside of a comic book universe.

Certainly, a single event can provide a series of different outcomes, though it is impossible to state that (apart from one’s life and death) a single event shapes the future of any inidividual. Quite the contrary, the existence of a human being is made up of a series of past events that have contributed to an individual’s present and their subsequent future. In this way, human beings are not literary characters and, as such, do not exist in the Creative Universe so much as they do in the perceived one.

The result that must be derived from Batman’s creation, in addition to TDKR, can be split into three parts; a single event does not correlate a trend, a single event does not account for every action and possibility in an individual’s future, and the past must be reflected on for the future, but not in a way that paralyzes one into inaction, but motivates one into the appropriate action. The past is not meant to scare one away from the future, but is meant to enlighten and educate one for the present (and, obviously, for the future as well). I’ve already mentioned that my thoughts on the past often leave me considering alternate routes and possibilities that would not provide outcomes like the ones that I exist in. Certainly, there’s a universe where I don’t blog, and there’s also a universe where I’m a fluffy poodle, though for a moment, I’d like to point out that this is not that universe.

The universe I exist in and, certainly, the one that every other human being shares is simple and straightforward; time merely flows (the direction is a topic of great debate, argument, heart break, and philosophy), and events happen with or without the input and involvement of others. In this way, and as much as it pains me to say it, events that have happened can no longer be altered. Thinking about an event like it can be changed is pointless, though actively shaping the future based on the results of a past event is entirely useful and absolutely necessary. I suppose my point, when presented succinctly, is straightforward: the past is history, the future is a relative mystery, and therefore one must focus on the present. In every sense of the word, I highly doubt that it is merely a coincidence that presents are synonymous with gifts.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Frasier (TheByteScene Review)

Frasier 3.5 Rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-psychiatrists out of 4

Frasier Crane has troubled me since the day I started watching his show. Every single aspect of his program should make me dislike the main character; he’s picky, conceited, hypocritical, rude, extremely snobby, verbose and loquacious to a terrifying degree, and self-centred to the core. What troubles me the most is that despite these obvious failings, I am drawn to both his circumstances and his personality; Frasier’s wit and charm is more than enough to make up for his snobbish personality, and the culture and intellectualism he exhibits more than compensate for his conceited and hypocritical attitude. His inability to deal with basic day to day scenarios without launching into a pseudo-intellectual rant about morality and the human conscience doesn’t put me off as much as it normally would.

Granted, Frasier’s failings extend far past his personality; the man is an even worse psychiatrist, often choosing to hand out advice instead of offering genuine therapy (whether through the radio or otherwise). Furthermore, due to the nature of his situation (his radio show), he very rarely provides anything more than a ball park figure for a patient diagnosis. Moving past this, any real mental illness Frasier diagnoses is sent to psychiatrists who are, no doubt, more competent than he. Once again, however, I find that his so-called “Drive-thru” psychiatry more than sums up the problems of his patients, and once a situation calls for an actual diagnosis or therapy session, he more than compensates by providing genuine help to his patients.

His treatment of his brother, father, and house-keeper/live in physiotherapist at the end of the second season proves this almost immediately. Interestingly enough, despite the failings in his diagnostic methods, he is shown to truly care for his patients, and regardless of how hard he does try, Frasier is incapable of remaining objective, choosing to provide help to the full extent of his abilities and emotions.

I discuss the failings of Frasier the character as a precursor to discussing the failings of Frasier the show for the simple reason that one must recognize the flaws of the characters to understand the failings in the program. Each episode is structured in typical sitcom fashion, where a maximum of two potential plot points are slowly revealed throughout the course of 22 minutes. The minutiae of plot B might have some correlation with the minutiae of plot A, but whether or not there is any relation, Frasier Crane is usually at the centre of both conflicts (whether he is the cause of the two conflicts is often disregarded entirely, though his inability to keep his mouth shut is ironically used as further character development. After all, he’s a psychiatrist who spends more time revealing patient history than attempting to solve any of the patient’s history).

That being said, the show has its failings; for a sitcom based so widely around culture, intellectualism, opinion, thought, and character development, most of the conflict that occurs throughout the show can be summed up with a single statement: the characters should have just asked. Over the course of the past week, I’ve been tweeting a similar hash-tag ad nauseam; each conflict that occurs within the Frasier universe can be avoided entirely if one of the many so-called “smart” characters just asks what everyone else is talking about. Granted, therein lies a point that must be mentioned: Frasier Crane and Niles, his brother, are psychiatrists who spend most of their time listening to their patients (Frasier, hilariously, leads a radio show), and the remainder speaking.

As such, they expect complete disclosure from those around them, and when they do ask a question, it’s only to listen to the response. The basis of psychiatry revolves around full disclosure with one’s physician; a doctor can’t listen if a patient won’t talk. In terms of their private lives, however, the two expect a similar relationship to the point that every character, at one moment, discusses that they don’t want to talk about their problems with the two (at the given moment, everything changes when the problem becomes too much to bear, of course). The implication being that the two brothers pry into the personal lives of those around them to such a degree that their family and friends must blatantly tell the two that they have no reason to be involved.

Despite this detail, the program makes it a habit of hiding details from the two brothers in every episode. I say this not as hyperbole, but as a fact; every episode (if not, then almost every episode) has a plot point that can be resolved succinctly if one of the brothers asks about the problem. Instead, the two bumble around the set acting on nothing more than assumption and “professional” judgement. The assumptions that the two characters make, interestingly, often cause further conflicts to emerge. At one point, during the fifth season, the show essentially lampshades this fact by having the younger brother, Niles, blatantly and obviously point out that one character is not aware of his feelings for her by having him dance around the set waving his arms like a madman.

The show raises a strong point about the importance of communication; listening is incredibly important, and not being able to listen to the thoughts and opinions of others is a failing, but not being able to provide an opinion or thought of one’s own is an even greater disadvantage. Granted, the show addresses far more than the importance of basic communication, as it’s repeatedly brought to the attention of the two brothers that they must stop talking and opining so others can do the same, but the core of Frasier is the relationship and constant struggle between speaking and being heard. On one hand, there is no point in speaking if no one is listening and, on the other, speaking too much causes others to stop listening, a point that is all too clear to Dr. Frasier Crane and The Frasier Crane Show.

Annoyingly, I can’t claim that the show’s only shortcoming makes me like it any less. Thanks to the wit, charm, intellect, and dialogue of the program (not to mention it’s wonderful characters, and brilliant acting), Frasier is one of my favourite sitcoms. The setting provides enough diversity to satisfy the most discerning of viewers, and the characters provide a sense of intelligence that I’ve yet to see replicated on television. The show addresses several very important issues directly, rarely taking the easy way with any joke, always forcing the audience to be as fluid as the characters. The show has a level of maturity that very few sitcoms can provide, let alone support, and as such I find myself drawn to it further, relishing every moment and always craving more; more detail, more development, and more laughter. All desires that the show is more than happy to oblige.

Frasier is, in every sense of the word, the perfect sitcom; it’s funny, the dialogue is brilliantly written, the characters are portrayed with a level of finesse and style that many actors can only dream of achieving, and while the plot might be paper thin thanks to the “should’ve just asked” trope, everything else makes up for it. As such, I cannot deny the brilliance that it provided the televised world during it’s initial run, and I can safely guarantee that every moment of Frasier is worth watching. Even the really annoying bits where simply speaking can solve the episode’s conflict.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger (who hasn’t been very Avid lately); comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK