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Hotel Mexico – August 24, 2012

I went to Williamsburg’s Knitting Factory this Friday evening on a whim just to relax to some live music. The main band was Hotel Mexico, a Japanese electronic band accompanied by a singer. I couldn’t tell if he sung in English, Japanese, or some other language, but his high-pitched vocals gave the music a  delightfully dreamy color.

At one point, one of the guitarists didn’t have a part and decided to dance instead:

L’Espalier in Boston – July 2012

When I was in Boston during the summer of 2012, I treated myself out to the fancy four-star restaurant L’Espalier on Boylston street. To keep the cost reasonable, I decided to go to lunch, where I got a six course meal for only $60.

Case in point: you know the place is elite when the hostess downstairs coordinates with the hostess upstairs so that after taking the elevator to the main floor of the restaurant, you are greeted by your surname.

A shot of the inner decor:

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Now for the food. First, the cream that goes with the bread:

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Next, the lychee juice (it did not come with the six course meal):

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Now to the dishes. Unfortunately, there were times where I had a lapse and took a bite or two before realizing I was supposed to take a snapshot.

Course #1: Oyster topped with caviar.

Course #1: Oyster topped with caviar.

Foie gras topped with wine jelly and some kind of mint cookie.

Course #2: Foie gras topped with wine jelly and some kind of mint cookie.

Course #3: Halibut with  corn sauce and some vegetables.

Course #3: Halibut with corn sauce and some vegetables.

Course #4: Sausage medley with a fig and some onions.

Course #4: Sausage medley with a fig and some onions.

Course #5: Six cheese platter with bread and nuts.

Course #5: Six cheese platter with bread and nuts.

Course #6: Desert. Chocolate cake, sponge cake, and ice cream.

Course #6: Desert. Chocolate cake, sponge cake, and ice cream.

For only sixty dollars and the two hours that it took to eat, this was a fantastic deal and a wonderful treat.

A Beautiful Sunday

Today I was numbed by the beauty that is West Village. The cool autumn air hovered as relaxed strangers drifted by in their stylish garments. The cars were silent, the sunlight was glancing, the restaurants were busy. Time seemed to dissolve before the present moment. There was no tension, no hurry, no disconnect. Friends walked in groups. Families dined in comfort. Lovers lingered in laughter. And as I walked calmly above the cobbled roads, peering through the decorated boutiques and cozy cafes, distracted intermittently by the beautiful women catching my eye, I breathed the air that everyone else breathed this afternoon, without a sense of I or they.

Book Launch: “Answers for Aristotle” by Massimo Pigliucci

Yesterday, I attended a book launch and wine social in the East Village, where author and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci gave an informal and entertaining discussion about his new book Answers for Aristotle.

The discussion focused around topics pertaining to morality, namely the moral dilemmas we face in our lives and how we are to seek answers to moral dilemmas. A central point of focus was what Massimo referred to as the “trolley problem”. This thought experiment consists of the following. Suppose you see a trolley  approaching a track that is about to kill five workers who are stuck on the track. Next to you, however, is a lever which you can pull to redirect the trolley onto another track. This other track only has one worker attached to it. Thus, pulling the lever will only cause one person to die, whereas doing nothing will cause five persons to die. What do you do? According to Massimo, most people will pull the lever. In this situation, we use a utilitarian judgment, reasoning that pulling the lever saves four lives, and so we pull the lever.

But now consider the following situation. You are standing on top of a bridge and as before there is a trolley approaching a track with five passengers. This time, instead of having a lever, your only option is to push a stranger in front of you over the bridge. The collision of the trolley with this person would stop the trolley in time and save the other five passengers. We are now confronted with which choice to make.

In this situation, the common response changes: most people are reluctant to take action. But as Massimo pointed out, the logic of the two situations is identical. In both cases, the outcome of intervention is to save four lives, albeit in the former case, one just had to pull the lever, and in the latter, one had to violently push someone over a bridge. Nevertheless, people have a hard time justifying why their course of action differs in these two situations, despite their equivalent outcomes.

Massimo addressed this issue by bringing in studies from neuroscience which indicate what goes on in the minds of subjects when confronted with these two situations. The difference in these two situations is illuminating and interesting. In the first scenario of the lever, the area of the mind which is involved in the decision is making is the frontal cortex, an area of the brain involved with logical decision making. However, in the second scenario, it is mostly the amygdala that is involved, a part of the brain governing emotional responses. As one can already intuit, the emotional intensity of having to push someone over a bridge certainly causes us to reconsider what our choice of action ought to be. I find this example fascinating in that it indicates the complexity and subtlety involved in our moral decision making – that our actions which may be difficult to explain on logical terms may nevertheless have an explanation via biological processes.

Massimo went on to discuss many other issues and answer questions from audience members. I lingered around for another hour or so to chime in on the post discussion that ensued with the author, where it became a sort of free for all philosophical discussion – issues ranged from radical skepticism to alternatives to Aristotelian logic.

I found the night to be extremely refreshing, not only in taking a step back and evaluating my character and the moral content of my life, but also in having the opportunity to engage in such a high level of intellectual discussion – a rarity among colleagues, family, and friends.