Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Animals right and the scientific inquiry

category: science, philosophy

I was sitting in a class called Information Technology & Health today, in which I could find some useful applications of machine learning [my research specialization], when I suddenly got struck by the sight of an open live monkey brain stuffed with electrodes - and I was eating lunch at the same time! Oops.

There were also some references about how we can freeze half of the brain of some creatures in order to get more information about which part does what in cognitive neuroscience, or more generally inflicting damage to the brain as a way to study it...

This reminded me that I don't like to see videos of live monkeys with metal rods in their head (rationally, I don't have any a priori problem with it; but for now, I don't like the feel). And this made me think about the animal right issues during scientific inquiry, and that I was glad that I wasn't in biology or those other fields where you sometimes have to crush mice's head for the Good of Science.

As a quick intro to my worldview, I have some kind of value hierarchy for the creatures in this world, with humans at the top, in which the amount of 'brain power' (fuzzily defined) determines the ordering (so insects are pretty low at the bottom, whereas monkeys, dolphins, dogs [my dog certainly seems to think sometimes] are close to the top - also, as a humanist, all humans are a priori equal in my value system). But even though the humans are the top, I'm quite sensitive to animal suffering. What is suffering is another thing which I'll need to define some day. But for now, all I can say is that I'm not sure how I stand on the issue of which animal suffering is justified, according to my worldview, at least. As a first gut-feeling approximation, I would like to avoid any animal suffering and so that's why I'm glad I don't need to make the direct decision of whether or not I will conduct a particular experiment on animals if I was in the field... [Eating meat is another issue which I won't get into right now.] But I guess that I'll have to take a stand on this issue one day. There are some compromises between the advancement of human knowledge, the usefulness of this human knowledge and the rights of animals (or humans).

As a side note, a very good friend of mine recently suggested that I read Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, and The Story of B. She found that those books were life changing. Without going into the details (for now at least, this entry is big enough!), and being quite reductionistic for the sake of the link, one aspect of the books is about sustainable living. And how to live with 'nature' rather than against it. I guess that would probably mean not to mess up with animals for science. I should read the books first... They are high on my 'books to read' priority list...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Google organizes your past - Picasa

And a little more publicity for Google...

I have always liked Google. Their search engine was great, I like their motto "don't do evil" (though I'm not sure how much they will succeed with it now that they have become a multi-billion enterprise with shareholders) and their focus of organizing the world information is something which is pretty much essential to my life... That is because I like to keep everything. That's another reason I'm writing a blog: to journal my reflections. I'm somewhat a memory freak. The memory freak is because logging my life makes it seems more useful. I can learn more from it if I can come back to the past; and each moment seems more important if they can't be forgotten. But well, that's another story.

The inspiration for this entry is another useful tool that I discovered today under the Google family: Picasa, an image organizer. According to it, I have 10,000 images on my hard drive. It's good to be able to browse them cleanly and at light speed as Picasa enables you to (in chronological order, for example). I had some kind of folder hiearchical order for my pictures, sorted by month. But I was still not able to find back some picture that I had taken two years ago, mainly because I didn't remember during which exact month I had taken it... Since Picasa can show all the pictures together, it was quite easier to browse through the thumbnails with it, and I found back the picture I was looking for in a few minutes. And Picasa is 10x faster than the utility which came with my digital camera (Canon ZoomBrowser EX) and that I was using before for caption and stuff...

So another kudos for Google. I'm sure there are other similar tools somewhere on the web which does the same thing even better, but for now, Picasa is a nice discovery for me. And now that I have a 1Gb card for my digital camera, the pictures are accumulating even faster... So it's a good thing that I found this thingie.

Hello world - blog version

So I have decided to build a blog. I will share here my reflections about Life, Universe and Everything which are somewhat not organized enough to put on my main website. We'll see how much time I'll manage to spend on this beast. But I like to share thoughts with the world, and I like to ponder about Life, Universe and Everything so it probably won't be totally empty...

Choosing a blog was not easy. I like the discussion board format of the comments in livejournal, and I like the category option of movable type, but I found livejournal too slow and didn't want to play with the Perl scripts of movable type or pay for typepad since I'm just testing the blog world... So I chose blogger, now owned by Google, which probably explains why it is so fast.

A question which naturally arises is: why the hell am I writing a blog? For me, it will be to organize the reflections which naturally pop up in my mind at any time of day, to improve a bit my writing skills (which have been seriously damaged by spending my whole undergraduate career in hardcore sciences) and to share this with the world. The sharing aspect arises from a mix of narcissism, exhibitionism and a genuine belief that I may say something interesting... ;o)

Anyhow, enjoy the reading!