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Friday, September 7, 2007 – Gedanken Experiment

"Die Gedanken sind frei" ("Thoughts are free") is a German song. The text and the melody can be found in Lieder der Brienzer Mädchen, printed in Bern, Switzerland between 1810 and 1820. The lyricist and the composer are unknown, though some attribute the text to Ferdinand Freiligrath. And note this

    "Gedanken" is a German word for "thought." A thought experiment is one you carry out in your head.  In physics, the term "gedanken experiment" is used to refer to an experiment that is impractical to carry out, but useful to consider because it can be reasoned about theoretically.

Now consider this new graffiti in an alley off Melrose Avenue, and consider the comment below the image.

Sperm graffiti, Melrose Avenue

At Andrew Sullivan's site, a comment

    The problem with the pro-life movement isn't merely that it is prohibitionist, but that its fundamental position cannot be formulated in any fashion that is coherent to someone, except that they first accept some bit of magic that turns a few cells into the moral equivalent of a person. Yes, there is plenty of argument about abortion in its later stages. But the pro-life movement has no interest in fashioning a dividing line based on the neurological criteria. If that were the mode of discussion, there would be far less fervor and more ready compromise. Few of us on the pro-choice side argue that our interest in personal liberty is SO great that we will abide NO restriction on late-term abortion.

    But that's not the mode of discussion. The pro-life position requires acceptance of a notion that is both religious in origin and odious to common sense, that even the earliest zygote should be treated as a person. The philosophical gedanken often used to exhibit the absurdity of this position is whether, caught in a burning fertility clinic, and able to save only one, you would choose to rescue a child? Or a tray holding thousands of viable embryos, ready for implantation into would-be mothers?

    Pro-lifers twist themselves in knots when they try to deal with that question. If they take their position at face value, they must do what we all know is repugnant, saving the far greater number of embryos, pretending that they are people. The alternative - the sane alternative - is to recognize that yes, there is a great difference between a person and an embryo. The gedanken's question isn't even tough. One saves the child. Of course. There is a difference between someone who is aware and who has experienced consciousness, and something that has never been more than unconscious tissue. Of course. It is a difference that should have moral and legal consequence. Of course.

    The pro-choice position is not just about arguing the consequence of that difference should include more reproductive freedom than the pro-life movement desires. It also is about preserving sanity in how these issues are argued.

The Melrose image is pro-life. See also Every Sperm is Sacred (Monty Python), and you might recall Woody Allen playing "Sperm Number One" in this 1972 movie – not an Oscar-winning performance, but along these same lines.

Around the corner, if you're a pro-life Republican, you might want to ride Jumbo.

"Ride Jumbo" for sale at curio shop on Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles
"Ride Jumbo" for sale at curio shop on Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles

If not, buy something strong at Melrose Liquor.

Signage, Melrose Liquor, Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles
Signage, Melrose Liquor, Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles

If you wish to use any of these photos for commercial purposes I assume you'll discuss that with me. And should you choose to download any of these images and use them invoking the "fair use" provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976, please provide credit, and, on the web, a link back this site.

Technical Note:

Most of these photographs were shot with a Nikon D70 - using lens (1) AF-S Nikkor 18-70 mm 1:35-4.5G ED, or (2) AF Nikkor 70-300mm telephoto, or after 5 June 2006, (3) AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor, 55-200 mm f/4-5.6G ED. They were modified for web posting using Adobe Photoshop 7.0.  Earlier photography was done with a Sony Mavica digital still camera (MVC-FD-88) with built-in digital zoom.

[Gedanken Experiment]

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 - Alan M. Pavlik