22 August, 2010

Old endings and new beginnings

Today I had a strange feeling. I had my last orienteering race of this season. And it's only August! This year, no Finnish Champs, no races in cold rain and swearing why the hell I do this actually. And for the first time in years I actually had a good ending race of the season. For some reason never achieved that before. Maybe this time it was because I quite couldn't grasp the idea that this is it, the last race for a long time.

On the way home from my parents' I started thinking about all this in a more general perspective. The next following weeks will be mostly the same: the last time eating in Otaniemi, the last night in my flat here, the last time I see my friends. All that will be out of my life for some while.

Of course it feels at least a bit strange, even slightly depressing. I mean, I'll be giving up much by leaving the ever-so-friendly atmosphere of Otaniemi. I've really liked it here. It is very convenient: you can find almost everything you need very close, and there's always a party if you need one!

On the other hand, Otaniemi is almost too convenient and comfortable. Life isn't always like that, nor should it be. Troubles, mistakes, new views and different ways of doing stuff are really the situations that teach you most - especially about yourself. I think one can never know who one is without first looking at others. Isn't it the differences, not the absolute qualities that define us? Isn't a "mathematically attuned" person just better at maths than the average Joe?

The upcoming 10 months in Graz will surely offer a lot of new ways to grow, to learn and explore. I'm really looking forward to that. Even though the future looks uncertain, I'm very confident it's all going to be just fine. I mean, the uncertainty is exactly why I should be going. Going to a safe, previously known place would not really teach me anything. (Although one can never know what might happen even in the most homely place, just thinking back about Sonja's exchange period here)

I will definitely miss a lot of things and people from here - and I like it. It is better to miss them than having nothing to miss.

16 August, 2010

How much money is enough?

You know, some decades ago people suffering from a shortage of food wasn't all that uncommon. In the Western countries, that's all changed. In the past 30 years money has taken the place of food in that sense. Working was all about getting money. More money. No matter how much you had, you still needed more.

Unfortunately, as with food, enough is enough. Most of the people in the West have really more than they need. So, they want to drive a BMW instead of a Toyota - need to have more money. Want a bigger house - need more money. I mean, when is it going to stop? Is anything ever enough? Or are we going to consume ourselves to oblivion, much like mr. Creosote in Monty Python's "The Meaning Of Life"?

On the other hand, is it really about the amount? Or is it more about how you use it? Does it matter why you need a huge pile of money, or is the problem just the amount?

A couple of days ago I started thinking what I needed money for. First, the obvious things came up: food, a decent home, clothes and all that must-have stuff. Well, that didn't seem to cover it all. I'd need some hobbies, right? So, on the list went orienteering and running equipment expenses, a bit of traveling and books. Oh yeah, music equipment, too. But that was it. I mean, that's not an enormous amount of income I'd need. And if I split housing between two people, it's not like I'd need to be Governor of the Entire Universe to see it through.

If I think of it, most of the things that make me happy are very cheap - or even free. Love, friendship - can't buy those from Stockmann. Sure, you'll want the occasional movie night or dine out, but that's all really. Nature - well, all you need is a bike and you're ready to go, really. Get a camera if you feel really into it.

But then, alas, disaster struck in the way of critical thinking. What if somebody has more expensive hobbies? Is it ok to have driving as a hobby? How about horse riding? The intuitive solution would be to claim that if you have expensive solutions, you just have to work more. But somehow I feel the need to draw a line between what's ok as self-actualization and what's just too much in the way of vanity. So far, however, the solution is nowhere to be seen. So for the time being, I guess I'll just have to accept that some people need more money than others.

13 August, 2010

Philosophy: a theory of anything - or a theory of everything?

What is philosophy about? What really is the subject-matter of philosophy? With other sciences the questions seems to be so much easier: usually we don't have a lot of trouble deciding on the subject-matter of physics, for example. But with philosophy it is so much harder. Philosophical questions are everywhere, some claim. There are only very few valid philosophical questions, other argue. To some, philosophy as a whole is meaningless gibberish. After all this, the young would-be philosophy student is surely feeling nauseous and decides that a career in bureaucracy actually sounds quite intriguing.

Let's take a closer look at the statement, that philosophy is a theory of anything. And bu anything, I really mean anything. It can be about politics, moral, the chair you're sitting in, Donald Duck, or a five-legged venom-drooling monster from the planet 'Czazch. Now that's one hell of a field to cover. According to this view, philosophical questions are everywhere. By chaining questions about being one always ends up with a philosophical question. To demonstrate:
"I see a table."
-> "What is a table?"

"A table is a flat-surfaced object."
-> "What is an object?"

"An object is something hard and three-dimensional that you can touch."
-> "What means that it is something?"

"That it has these qualities."
-> "What means having qualities?"

And so on. This ensures that we always end up with a question regarding being, meaning or some other final principle. To some extent this can be thought of searching for the final cause. But how can we decide, when the question is philosophical? How do we know that we've reached the edge of, say, physical explanations and need to divert our attention to philosophy? I mean, if philosophy can be about anything, then what is philosophy, really? Is the explanation of subject-matter really useful in any way?

On the other hand, philosophy can be a theory about everything. Whereas every branch of science tries to explain its own piece of turf, philosophy goes beyond the lawn and tries to explain the big picture. This holistic view often tries to tie the knots together and for example explain what questions we can actually answer, or how we interpret the phenomenal world. But can we have a theory of the whole? If its pieces consist of partial theories of the world, shouldn't the "theory of the world" be actually outside the world? Isn't that at least outside our understanding, if not a logical paradox altogether?

All the above shows that there are really no clear answers as to what philosophy really is. But as any philosopher knows, usually asking the right questions is more important than answering them.

This text was heavily influenced by Roger Scruton's Modern Philosophy. For more insights on the subject, see chapter 1 "The Nature of Philosophy".

09 August, 2010

The sale of moral equity

A scapegoat is what we need
as we ourselves are innocent
the crisis that wants to feed
like a brother after lent

In a world of wealth and money
like bees to honey
we flock to golden values
and paper money

Handling checks and balances
surely they're just after fame
it's not us, it's them
they're the ones to blame!

So we sell our moral equity
because we just don't care
outsourcing ethics like IT
and we just pay our fare

05 August, 2010

Nicaragua: there and back again

Hey-ho, I'm back and still alive! Well, actually I've been back for a week now, but I was too lazy to write about it. After 10 days of rain, various illnesses and all other hassle it feels good to be back here :) However, the trip itself was very eye-opening, hence my interest in sharing some experiences from the land afar.

The first thing that struck me in Nicaragua was the poverty. Ok, that's really a bit of an overstatemen: the first thing that struck me was the annoying immigration, the second thing was my lovely girlfriend, the third thing was the darkness and the fourth was the jetlag. But the first thing the next morning was definitely the poverty!

To rewind a bit, my first trouble was with the Nicaraguan immigration. I was happily standing in the line for the immigration after some 20 hours of traveling. Looking around, it struck me a bit odd that a lot of people had dollars held between their passports. "Wow, is the corruption really this bad that people speed up the process at the border already", I thought to myself. As it turned out, upon arriving to Nicaragua you have to pay a tourist fee of 5 dollars. Naturally, I didn't have any dollars at hand, nor did I have any cordobas. So the immigration officer confiscated my passport and told me to get some cash for the fee. Well, I trudged dutifully to the exchange office, only to discover that they didn't accept cards! Curses! So, a frantic search for cash was in order. After raiding my wallet and all my available pockets I managed to gather around 7 euros, which just about was enough. So, I managed to exchange it for cordobas, got my passport back and got through the whole hassle, tired and annoyed.

The next morning I was wandering around Leon with amazement. Coming from a country like Finland the poor state of affairs was really something. The infrastructure was pretty bad which contributed to a feeling of insecurity and general untrustworthiness towards other people. Well, I got used to it gradually, but that's how I felt in the beginning. After two days of jetlagging (and avoiding the storm that was flooding the streets) we climbed to Cerro Negro and volcanoboarded downhill from the 400m. It was fun, even though the storm that hit us at the top of Cerro Negro was quite annoying - you couldn't hear anything from three metres afar, let alone see anything, as the rain was hitting us basically sideways.

Driving through a local horse fair in Nandaime

A regular long-distance bus in Nicaragua

The bus control panel was seriously high tech

After that it was time to travel around Nicaragua: we spent time at Isla de Ometepe, climbing Concepción (1600 m, went up to 1000 m) and not seeing much of a view due to some weather (again!). A day was well spent at the amazing beaches of Santo Domingo, after which we took a day to review a nature park near Moyogalpa.Climbing up to Concepción

The smug look of disappointment as we realized the clouds
were going to spoil the view from Concepción.
(oh btw, this guy was actually an Austrian from Graz, who we met
by chance on the way up - you can imagine my surprise!)

A moment of perfection in Santo Domingo

Then we left Isla de Ometepe and went to Granada for a boat trip. Almost immediately after that I got 39 fever and was forced to spend the remaining day in bed. Next morning at 3.30 we left for Managua to take a flight to the Caribbean side, to Corn Island. The plan was to go from Corn Island to Little Corn Island for snorkeling. But as it turned out, my body had quite different plans. I felt nauseous all the way to Managua, and my suspicion was confirmed as my previous dinner made a reappearance right after the 1 hour taxi ride. My body seemed to be enjoying this show, since encore throwing up resulted with 3-hour intervals for almost the rest of the day. Somehow I managed to survive to Corn Island, but we decided that a 1-hour trip to Little Corn in an open boat in sunshine would be too much for me - which indeed it would have. So, we booked a hotel in Big Corn and I collapsed in a heap on the bed, just trying to stay alive and keep the rest of the liquids inside me.

At 4 pm I finally gave up trying to get better with our own medicines and Sonja convinced me to go to the local hospital. I have to say that the treatment at the hospital was very good, despite the poor conditions and ridiculous pay - doctors and nurses earn about 800 $ / month. After an afternoon in there with 2 l of saline dripping in my vein I started to get gradually better. Combined with antibiotics, the excellent treatment of doctors and nurses and two days of rest got me up to shape just in time (talk about being on the receiving end of JIT!) for the flight home. Still, the annoyance of missing four full days was pretty big.

Some very strangely shaped rice fields in eastern Nicaragua

Anyway, I hope the pictures tell you more than my ramblings. Due to technical difficulties with my camera, most of the pics were taken with Sonja's - I might upload some of those later on. For now, though, you'll have to stick with my documentation :)