Being predictable and being reliable

I am a fairly predictable person; people who know me, even those who know me not really that well, can quite accurately predict what I will do under different circumstances. For example, everyone can predict correctly that I will try to be the first one to ask the speaker questions after a talk. I am also a fairly reliable person; if I agree to do something, I will usually get it done and get it done on time.

So, can I be described as predictably reliable? Well, that sounds redundant, for my being reliable implies that people can quite accurately predict that I will do what I agree to do. How about being reliably predictable? This is redundant too if it means "can be predicted correctly most of the time". There is another sense in which it is redundant: given that I am predictable, people obviously can rely on their prediction of what I will do.

Being predictable and being reliable, however, are not the same, at least for the reason that a person who is predictable may not be reliable. Indeed, a person can be predictably unreliable. Isn't "predictably unreliable" redundant too? No, for a person who is unreliable is not a person who always does not do what he has agreed to do, but a person who does not always do what he has agreed to do. That is, sometimes he does, sometimes he does not. If this makes such a person unpredictable, then perhaps we can call him "predictably unpredictable"!


It may still work without God

I used to, when I was still a Christian, like Reinhold Niebuhr's so-called Serenity Prayer very much, particularly the following lines:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

When I look at these lines again now, I can't help wondering why I thought I needed God in order to have the attitudes advocated in these lines. Why can't I develop the serenity, courage, and wisdom on my own? It may still work without God.


"I am flattered'

I am always puzzled by the use of the expression "I am flattered". To flatter someone is, in most cases, to praise her insincerely and excessively for gain or advantage; sometimes the praise can be both sincere and true, but the motivation for gain or advantage is still there, which is why flattering is still not a decent thing to do in such cases. Accordingly, if we say of a person A that she flattered another person B, we are giving a negative evaluation of A.

Suppose I was B and A praised me. Now if I responded to A by saying "I am flattered", I would not be giving a negative evaluation of A. But why? Isn't it the same fact that was being expressed when I said "I am flattered" and when a third person said "A flattered B"?

One possible explanation is that when a person says "I am flattered", she is trying to be modest, that is, what she means is "You are praising me too much". This is not, however, a completely satisfying explanation, for "praising someone too much" does not seem to mean the same as "flattering someone".


Missing hours

I am considered by my friends to be efficient and self-disciplined. Like most people, however, I still waste a lot of time. When I try to count the hours I spend on different kinds of things on a typical day, there are at least one or two hours unaccounted for. I have, as it were, some missing hours every day.

A typical teaching day:
Teaching (preparation, lectures, seeing students) --- 5 hours
Reading --- 2 hours
Cooking --- 1 hour
Eating meals --- 1 hour
Internet (email, reading news and blogs, etc) --- 2 hours
Driving (house and campus) --- 0.5 hour
House chores --- 1 hour
Family time (talking and doing stuff with son and wife) --- 1.5 hours
Writing (blogs, papers) --- 1 hour
Physical exercise --- 0.5 hour
Sleeping --- 6.5 hours

* Missing hours --- 2 hours

A typical non-teaching day:
Reading --- 4 hours
Cooking --- 1 hour
Eating meals --- 1 hour
Internet (email, reading news and blogs, etc) --- 3 hours
Driving (house and gym) --- 0.5 hour
House chores --- 1 hour
Family time (talking and doing stuff with son and wife) --- 1.5 hours
Writing (blogs, papers) --- 3 hours
Physical exercise --- 1.5 hours
Sleeping --- 6.5 hours

* Missing hours --- 2 hours.


Time travel and regrets

I have always been fascinated with the possibility of time travel. It seems that this is true of many people too. When I was talking about fatalism in the Metaphysics class and asked the question whether a person who traveled to the past and made predictions about the future (i.e. future from the perspective of the past that he was now in) always made correct predictions (the answer seems to be "Yes" because he was from the future), the whole class jumped in the discussion, but focused entirely on the possibility of time travel, whether the past can be changed, etc. I had to remind them that our topic was fatalism, not time travel (yet).

I think the most fascinating aspect of the possibility of time travel is not the possibility of knowing or seeing the past (or the future), but the possibility of changing the past, and hence changing the future as well. It is so fascinating because most of us would very much like to change at least some parts of our past. We all have regrets. There were actions that we wish we had not taken. There were decisions that we now see as wrong. There were things that we wish we could have stopped from happening...


If fatalism is true...

Fatalism is the view that whatever happens is unavoidable. When people say they believe in fate or destiny, they are not necessarily expressing fatalism. They may apply the concept of fate only to things that are important to them, such as love, career, and health, but not to mundane things like what to eat for breakfast. It is not clear that this selective concept of fate is even coherent.

If fatalism is true, then everything that happens is unavoidable. I find fatalism extremely hard to accept; even if there was a forceful argument for fatalism, I am not sure I would be able to accept its conclusion, that is, accept that everything that happens is unavoidable. Accepting fatalism would mean to me the loss of motivations to plan for and strive to achieve anything.

Richard Taylor thinks, however, that fatalism should imply "the attitude of calm acceptance":

And this is a comfort, both in fortune and in adversity. We shall say of him who turns out bad and mean that he was going to; of him who turns out happy and blessed that he was going to: neither praising nor berating fortune, crying over what has been, lamenting what was going to be, or passing moral judgments.

Then he goes on to ask this:

Shall we, then, sit idly by, passively observing the changing scene without participation, never testing our strength and our goodness, having no hand in what happens, or in making things come out as they should?

And his answer is:

This is a question for which each will find his own answer.

This answer can be understood fatalistically: Our attitude towards fatalism is also fated and unavoidable!