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Evil is an intrinsic part of humanity, and it seems almost impossible to erradicate it from society without simultaneously removing a significant part of our human character. There will always be individuals whom seek to gain advantage over others through harmful means. Evil can take on many forms, depending upon the definition one uses to encapsulate the concept. For instance, the popular definition includes elements of malicious intent or actions that are designed to cause injury/distress to others. But what of the individual that accidentally causes harm to another, or whom takes a silent pleasure in seeing other’s misfortune? Here we enter a grey area, the distinction between good and evil blurring ever so slightly, preventing us from making a clear judgement on the topic.

Religion deals with this human disposition towards evil in a depressingy cynical manner. Rather than suggesting ways in which the problem can be overcome, religion instead proposes that evil or “sin” is an inevitable temptation (or a part of our character into which we are born) that can only be overcome with a conscious and directed effort. Invariably one will sin sometime in their life, whereupon the person should ask for forgiveness from their nominated deity. Again we see a shifting of responsibility away from the individual, with the religious hypothesis leaning on such concepts as demonic possession and lapses of faith as an explanation for the existence of evil (unwavering belief in the deity cures all manner of temptations and worldly concerns).

In its current form, religion does not offer a satisfactory explanation for the problem of evil. Humanity is relegated to the backseat in terms of moral responsibility, coerced into conformity through a subservence to the Church’s supposed ideals and ways of life. If our society is to break free of these shackles and embrace a humanistic future free from bigotry and conflict, moral guidance must be gained from within the individual. To this end, society should consider introducing moral education for its citizens, taking a lesson from the annals of history (specifically, ancient Greece with its celebration of individual philosophical growth).

Almost counter-intuitively, some of the earliest recorded philosophies actually advocated a utopian society that was atheistic in nature, and deeply rooted in humanistic, individually managed moral/intellectual growth. One such example is the discipline of Stoicism, founded in the 2nd century BC. This philosophical movement was perhaps one of the first true instances of humanism whereby personal growth was encouraged through introspection and control of destructive emotions (anger, violence etc). The stoic way was to detach oneself from the material world (similar to Buddhist traditions), a tenet that is aptly summarised through the following quote;

“Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”

Epictetus

Returning to the problem of evil, Stoicism proposed that the presence of evil in the world is an inevitable fact due to ignorance. The premise of this argument is that a universal reason or logos, permeates throughout reality, and evil arises when individuals go against this reason. I believe what the Stoics mean here is that a universal morality exists, that being a ubiquitous guideline accessible to our reality through conscious deliberation and reflective thought. When individuals act contrary to this universal standard, it is through an ignorance of what the correct course of action actually is.

This stoic ethos is personally appealing because it seems to have a large humanistic component. Namely, all of humanity has the ability to grasp universal moral truths and overcome their ‘ignorance’ of the one true path towards moral enlightenment. Whether such truths actually exist is debatable, and the apathetic nature of Stoicism seems to depress the overall human experience (dulled down emotions, detachment from reality).

The ancient Greek notion of eudaimonia could be a more desirable philosophy by which to guide our moral lives. The basic translation of this term as ‘greatest happiness’ does not do it justice. It was first introduced by Socrates, whom outlined a basic version of the concept as comprising two components; virtue and knowledge. Socrates’ virtue was thus moral knowledge of good and evil, or having the psychological tools to reach the ultimate good. Subsequent students Plato and Aristotle expanded on this original idea of sustained happiness by adding layers of complexity. For example, Aristotle believed that human activity tends towards the experience of maximum eudaimonia, and to achieve that end it was though that one should cultivate rationality of judgement and ‘noble’ characteristics (honor, honesty, pride, friendliness). Epicurus again modified the definition of eudaimonia to be inclusive of pleasure, thus also changing the moral focus to one that maximises the wellbeing of the individual through satisfaction of desire (the argument here is that pleasure equates with goodness and pain with badness, thus the natural conclusion is to maximise positive feeling).

We see that the problem of evil has been dealt with in a wide variety of ways. Even in our modern world it seems that people are becoming angrier, impatient and destructive towards their fellow human beings. Looking at our track record thus far, it seems that the mantra of ‘fight fire with fire’ is being followed by many countries when determining their foreign policy. Modern incarnations of religious moral codes (an eye for an eye) have resulted in a new wave of crusades with theistic beliefs at the forefront once again.

The wisdom of our ancient ancestors is refreshing and surprising, given that commonsense suggests a positive relationship between knowledge and time (human progress increases with the passage of time). It is entirely possible that humanity has been following a false path towards moral enlightenment, and given the lack of progress from the religious front, perhaps a new approach is needed. By treating the problem of evil as one of cultural ignorance we stand to benefit on a high level. The whole judicial system could be re-imagined to one where offenders are actually rehabilitated through education, rather than simply breeding generations of hardened criminals. Treating evil as a form of improper judgement forces our society to take moral responsibility at the individual level, thus resulting in real and measurable changes for the better.

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The human brain and the internet share a key feature in their layout; a web-like structure of individual nodes acting in unison to transmit information between physical locations. In brains we have neurons, comprised in turn of myelinated axons and dendrites. The internet is comprised of similar entities, with connections such as fibre optics and ethernet cabling acting as the mode of transport for information. Computers and routers act as gateways (boosting/re-routing) and originators of such information.

How can we describe the physical structure and complexity of these two networks? Does this offer any insight into their similarities and differences? What is the plausibility of a conscious Internet? These are the questions I would like to explore in this article.

At a very basic level, both networks are organic in nature (surprisingly, in the case of the Internet); that is, they are not the product of an ubiquitous ‘designer’ and are given the freedom to evolve as their environment sees fit. The Internet is given permission to grow without a directed plan. New nodes and capacity added haphazardly. The naturally evolved topology of the Internet is one that is distributed; the destruction of nodes has little effect on the overall operational effectiveness of the network. Each node has multiple connections, resulting in an intrinsic redundancy where traffic is automatically re-routed to the target destination via alternate paths.

We can observe a similar behaviour in the human brain. Neurological plasticity serves a function akin to the distributed nature of the Internet. Following injury to regions of the brain, adjacent areas can compensate for lost abilities by restructuring neuronal patterns. For example, injuries to the frontal cortex motor area can be minimised with adjacent regions ‘re-learning’ otherwise mundane tasks that have since been lost as a result of the injury. While such recoveries are entirely possibly with extensive rehabilitation, two key factors determine the likelihood and efficiency of the operation; the intensity of the injury (percentage of brain tissue destroyed, location of injury) and leading from this, the chronological length of recovery. These factors introduce the first discrepancy between these two networks.

Unlike the brain, the Internet is resilient to attacks on its infrastructure. Local downtime is a minor inconvenience as traffic moves around such bottlenecks by taking the next fastest path available. Destruction of multiple nodes has little effect on the overall web of information. Users may loose access to or experience slowness in certain areas, but compared to the remainder of possible locations (not to mention redundancies in content – simply obtain the information elsewhere) such lapses are just momentary inconveniences. But are we suffering from a lack of perspective when considering the similarities of the brain and the virtual world? Perhaps the problem is one related to a sense of scale. The destruction of nodes (computers) could instead be interpreted in the brain as the removal of individual neurons. If one takes this proposition then the differences begin to loose their lucidity.

An irrefutable difference, however, arises when one considers both the complexity and the purpose of the two networks. The brain contains some 100 billion neurons, whilst the Internet comprises a measly 1 billion users by comparison (with users roughly equating the number of nodes, or access terminals that are physically connected to the Internet). Brains are the direct product of evolution, created specifically to keep the organism alive in an unwelcoming and hostile living environment. The Internet, on the other hand, is designed to accommodate a never-ending torrent of expanding human knowledge.  Thus the dichotomy in purpose between these two networks is quite distinguished, with the brain focusing on reactionary and automated responses to stimuli while the Internet aims to store information and process requests for its extraction to the end user.

Again we can take a step back and consider the similarities of these two networks. Looking at topology, it is apparent that the distributed nature of the Internet is similar to the structure and redundancy of the human brain. In addition, the Internet is described as a ‘scale-free’ or power-law network, indicating that a small percentage of highly connected nodes accounts for a very large percentage of the overall traffic flow. In effect, a targeted attack on these nodes would be successful in totally destroying the network. The brain, by comparison, appears to be organised into distinct and compartmentalised regions. Target just a few or even one of these collections of cells and the whole network collapses.

It would be interesting to empirically investigate the hypothesis that the brain is also a scale-free network that is graphically represented via a power law. Targetting the thalamus for destruction, (which is a central hub through which sensory information is redirected) might have the same devastating effect on the brain as destroying the ICANN headquarters in the USA (responsible for domain name assignment).

As aforementioned, the purposes of these two networks are different, yet share the common bond of processing and transferring information. At such a superficial level we see that the brain and the Internet are merely storage and retrieval devices, upon which the user (or directed thought process) are sent on a journey through a virtual world towards their intended target (notwithstanding the inevitable sidetracks along the way!). Delving deeper, the differences in purpose act as a deterrent when one considers the plausibility of consciousness and self-awareness.

Which brings us to the cusp of the article. Could the Internet, given sufficient complexity, become a conscious entity in the same vein as the human brain? Almost immediately the hypothesis is dashed due to its rebellion against common sense. Surely it is impossible to propose that a communications network based upon binary machines and internet protocols could ever achieve a higher plane of existence. But the answer might not be as clear cut as one would like to believe. controversially, both networks could be controlled by indeterminate processes. The brain, at its very essence, is governed by quantum unpredictability. Likewise, activity on the Internet is directed by self-aware, indeterminate beings (which in turn, are the result of quantum processes). At what point does the flow of information over a sufficiently complex network result in an emergent complexity mots notably characterised by a self-aware intelligence? Just as neurons react to the incoming electrical pulses of information, so too do the computers of the internet pass along packets of data. Binary code is equated with action potentials; either information is transmitted or not.

Perhaps the most likely (and worrying) outcome in a futurist world would be the integration of an artificial self-aware intelligence with the Internet. Think Skynet from the Terminator franchise. In all possibility such an agent would have the tools at its disposal to highjack the Internet’s comprising nodes and reprogram them in such a fashion as to facilitate the growth of an even greater intelligence. The analogy here is if the linking of human minds were possible, the resulting intelligence would be great indeed – imagine a distributed network of humanity, each individual brain linked to thousands of others in a grand web of shared knowledge and experience.

Fortunately such a doomsday outlook is most likely constrained within the realms of science fiction. Reality tends to have a reassuring banality about it that prevents the products of human creativity from becoming something more solid and tangible. Whatever the case may be in regards to the future of artificial intelligence, the Internet will continue to grow in complexity and penetration. As end user technology improves, we take a continual step closer towards an emergent virtual consciousness, whether it be composed of ‘uploaded’ human minds or something more artificial in nature. Let’s just hope that a superior intelligence can find a use for humanity in such a future society.

A common criticism I have come across during my philosophical wanderings the accusation that such thinkers and dreamers cannot possibly expect their ideas to ever take hold among society. “What is the point of philosophy”, they cry, “if the very musings they are proposing cannot be realistically and pragmatically implemented?” The subtle power of this argument is often overlooked; its point is more than valid. If all philosophy can do is outline an individual’s thoughts in a clear and concise manner without even a hint of how to implement said ideas then what is the point in even airing them! Apart from the intellectual stimulation such discussion brings of course, it seems as though the observations of philosophers are wasted.

In the modern world, the philosopher takes a backseat when it comes to government policy and the daily operation of state. Plato painted a far rosier picture in his ideal Republic which placed philosophers directly in the ruling class. Plato placed great emphasis on the abilities of philosophers to lead effectively.

“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,… nor, I think, will the human race.” (Republic 473c-d)

But is this really attainable? Was Plato correct in stating ‘until (my italics, TC) philosophers rule as kings’? The implication here is that philosophers currently lack certain qualities which make them suitable for the role of leadership. Was Plato referring to a lack of practicality, a lack of confidence in their abilities to lead or something more menial such as the public’s intrinsic distrust of intellectualism? Certainly, looking at the qualities of today’s leaders it seems that one requires expert skills in the art of social deception and persuasion if they are to succeed. When Plato speaks of “those who love the sight of truth” in his description of the ideal “philosopher kings” that would rule the republic, it seems at loggerheads with the reality of modern politics.

So in order to become a successful leader in the modern world, one must be socially skilled and able-minded to sway the opinions of others, even if you don’t end up delivering. The balancing act becomes one that aims to please the majority (either through actual deliverance of election promises or ‘pulling the wool over eyes’ until we forget about them) and upset the minority. Politicians need to know how to ‘play the system’ to their advantage. They must also exude power, real or imaginary, relying on unconscious processes such as social dominance through both verbal and non-verbal communication. Smear campaigns act to taint the reputation of adversaries and deals are brokered with the powerful few that can fund the election campaign with a ‘win at all costs’ attitude (in return for favours once the individual is elected).

So why do such individuals gain a place above the world’s thinkers? Plato would surely be turning in his grave if he knew that his republic ideal would thus far be unrealised. I intend to argue that it is their pragmatism, their ability to turn policies into realities that makes politicians suitable over philosophers. Politicians seem to know the best ways of pleasing everyone at once, even if the outcome is not the best course of action. They can simply snap their fingers and make a problem disappear; ‘swept under the carpet’ temporarily at least until their term ends and the aftermath must be dealt with by another political hopeful.

Philosophers are inherently unpopular. Not because they are wrinkly old men with white beards that mumble and smoke pipes indoors, but rather they tell the truth. The scary thing is, the public does not want to hear about how things should be done; they just want them gone with the least possible inconvenience to their own lives as possible. This is where philosophy runs into trouble.

The whole ethos of philosophy is to objectively consider the evidence and plan for every contingency. It relies on criticism and deliberation in order to arrive at the most efficient outcome possible; and even after all that philosophers are still humble enough to admit they may be wrong. Is this what the public detests so much? Can they not bring themselves to respect a humbled attitude that is open to the possibility of error and willing to make changes for the sake of growth and improvement? It seems this way; society would rather be lied to and feel safe in their false sense of security than be led by individuals that genuinely had the best interests of humanity at heart.

Of course, there is the dark side to philosophy that could possibly destroy its chances of ever becoming a ruling class. The adoption of certain moral standpoints, for instance, are a cause for argument insofar as the majority would never be able to arrive at a consensus in order for them to be enacted. Philosophers seem to have alot of work remaining if they are ever to unite under a banner of cooperation and agreement on their individual positions. Perhaps the search for universals amongst the menagerie of current philosophical paradigms is needed before a ruling body can emerge. As it currently stands, there is simply too much disagreement between individuals over the best course of action to make for a governing body. At least the present system is organised under political parties with members that share a common ideology, thus making deliberations far more efficient than a group of fundamentally opposed (on not only beliefs but also plans of action) philosophers.

Does a philosophical dictatorship offer a way out of this mess? While the concept at heart seems totally counter to what the discipline stands for, perhaps it is the only way forward. At least, in the sense that a solitary individual has greater authoritative power over a lower council of advisors and informants. This arrangement eliminates the problems that arise from disagreement, but seems fundamentally flawed (in the sense that the distibution of power is unequal).

The stuggle between the mental and the practical is not only limited to the realm of politics/philosophy. An individual’s sense of self seems to be split into two distinct entities; one that is intangible, rational, conscious and impractical (the thinker) whilst the other is the inverse, a practical incarnation of ‘you’ that can deal with the unpredicabilities of the world with ease, but exists mostly at some unconsious level. People are adept at planning future events using their mental capacities, although the vast majority of the time, the unconsious ‘pragmatist’ takes over and manages to destroy such carefully laid plans (think of how you plan to tell your loved one you are going out for the night. it doesn’t quite go as smoothly as you planed). Does this problem stem from the inherent inaccuracy of our ‘mental simulators’ which prevents every possible outcome from arising in conscious consideration prior to action? Or does our automatic, unconsious self have a much further reach than we might have hoped? If the latter is correct, the very existence of free-will could be in jeopardy (the possibility of actions arising before conscious thought – to be explored at a later date).

So what of a solution to this quandry. Thus far, it could be argued that this article simply follows in the footsteps of previous philosophy which advocates a strictly ‘thought only’ debate without any real call to action or suggestions for practical implementation. First and foremost, I believe philosophers have a lot to learn from politicians (and quite rightly, vice versa). The notion of Plato’s republic ruled by mental  giants who are experienced in the philosophy of knowledge, ethics and meaning seems, at face value, attractive. Perhaps this is the next step for governmental systems on this planet; if it can be realised in an attainable and realistic fashion.

Perhaps we are already on our way towards Plato’s goal. Rising education levels could be reaching sufficient levels so as to act in a catalytic explosion of political and ideological revolution. But just as philosopher’s tend to forget about the realities of the world, so too are we getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Education levels are not uniform across the globe, even intelligence (we can’t even measure it properly) varies greatly between individuals. Therfore, the problem remains; how to introduce the philosophical principles of meta-knowledge, respect for truth and deliberated moral codes of conduct? Is such a feat even possible what with the variety of intellects on this planet?

One thing is certain. If philosophers (and individuals alike) are ever to overcome the problems that arise from transferring ideas into reality they must take a regular ‘reality check’ and ensure that their discourse can be applicable to society. This is not in any way, shape or form advocating the outlaw of discussion on impractical thought exercises and radical new ideas, but rather pursuading more philosophers to reason about worldly concerns, rather than the abstract. The public needs a new generation of leaders to guide, rather than push or sweep aside, through the troublesome times that surely lay ahead. Likewise, policitians need to start leading passionately and genuinely, with the interests of their citizens at the forefront of every decision and policy amendment. They need to wear their hearts on their sleeves, advocating not only a pragmatic, law-abiding mentality within society, but also a redesign and revitalisation of morality itself. Politicians should be wholly open to criticism, in fact encouraging it in order to truly lead their people with confidence.

Finally, we as individuals should also take time out to think of ways in which we can give that little deliberating voice inside our heads a bit more power to enact itself on the outside world, rather than being silenced by the unconsious, animalistic and unfairly dominating automaton that seems to often cause more harm than good. The phrase ‘look before you leap’ connotes a whole new meaning if this point is to be taken with even a grain of truth.