Valley of Timelessness


We were in a valley, hemmed in by verdant trees. The cotton clouds wafted lazily across the skies as though they had just woken up and didn't have nothing better to do.

It was a perfect time to just lie down and soak in the beauty. 

Crystal waters bubbled joyfully down the scarred rocks, creating a music that only they could understand but all could appreciate.

It's an amazing place. Just wonderful.

"But I know every rock and tree and creature,
has a life, has a spirit, has a name."
                           - Pocahontas


2011 reflections


This post'll be introspective navel-gazing...

2011. A few more days and it'll be over. On hindsight, I'm glad for how the year had went. I had exposed myself to a diversity of opportunities, to interesting, unexpected results.

I had conversations with successful people and wise people. Sometimes, they're successful and wise. Sometimes, they're successful and smart. From them, I've learnt precious lessons, ones that I'll frequently remind myself of.

On writing
I've decided to take my writing more seriously.

To be honest, writing has always been a cathartic hobby. I write essays, for schoolwork, because I have to. I write online posts when I don't want to do my essays. It feels as though I'm always writing some article for someone or somewhere.

When the opportunity to write for Kent Ridge Common presented itself, I dropped the editor an email and joined as a writer. One article was extremely well received, with a sizable number of people sharing it on social media; in fact, it had over a thousand views in two weeks or so. I had felt (and still feel) strongly about this phenomenon. Unfortunately, my other articles on the local arts scene wasn't as well-received. But, oh-well, there are always hits-and-misses.

I also signed up for a poetry workshop with Jay Bernard, a Foyle Young Poet who had graduated from Oxford. She is currently writer-in-residence of USP, NUS. It was rather enjoyable, those evenings of mad scrambling to produce poems within 1.5 hours.

According to Jay, I've got to refine my poetry more and carry the metaphors further. Note to self: stop being lazy and check out those recommended anthologies soon.

Visual Arts
It has been fairly happening on this front, especially towards the end of the year.

Took part in a small exhibition organised by Instinc gallery. Didn't manage to sell anything but it was an exciting experience. I had a litany of reservations before I attended the opening night - what it no one else turned up? What if people asked me why I was there? What if someone mistook me for the waiter?

It turned out better than expected. Made a number of new acquaintances and had great conversations all around.

Then, I participated in the Art Garage @ The Arts House. In fact, I got a small mention on several websites as a "visual artist". Kind of mortifying since I consider myself as a "sometimes only visual artist". In fact, I wouldn't even have the guts to call myself an artist. (Apparently, to the arts community, the term can be bandied about readily; anyone who put a brush to a surface is an artist; what a receptive and warm community!)

Had the opportunity to meet up with old friends and talk about the space that art occupies in us. Such nourishing conversations have become increasingly rare as we age and grow further apart.

Took part in a business case study competition. It was an eye opening experience.

We lost at the finals due to several reasons. We are a very strong team but our opponents are stronger. We didn't understand the Vietnamese market well. We are young and inexperienced. They're working professionals.

Wait, I'm actually quite lazy to write about this now, especially since I'm working on another post dedicated to this recent experience. Stay tuned if you want to read more about it - in a mysterious, movie-worthy tone. To be continued...

It will suffice to say that I am woefully ignorant about finance matters. Planning to pick up such information in the coming semester, perhaps even a minor in business. I'm glad that this experience has highlighted a glaring shortcoming in my education.

Now that I've recognised this, the onus is on me to rectify it. We're all responsible for ourselves.

Overseas trip
Backpacking in India was initially uncomfortable. 4 guys travelled together and so the pre-trip planning was non-existent. We went, guided by our trusty Rough Guide to India.

Along the way, I saw majestic architecture and landscape. And, along the same way, I learnt to live with contingencies.

It's weird, how we want to plan for every eventuality. We want to know where to visit, where we'd stay, where we'd move towards. Then, we realise that it's okay if we don't know where we're going, that life is more vibrant when we allow ourselves to be surprised.

Recently, after the case study competition concluded, I visited Binh Lam village again. Exactly a year ago, I was there for a volunteer trip. This place holds wonderful memories for many people - my fellow volunteers, the children, our hosts.

The children fished up a crab, an eel and two fishes from a creek bubbling along the paddy fields. Our hosts treated us to rice wine and some village fare. I hugged Om and Bah - the grandpa and grandma who hosted us - and tried to convey gratitude.

Time in the village usually unfurled with graceful languor. But, for my friends and I, that visit passed with incredible speed.

Academic stuff
Many times during the semester, I considered giving up on my writing and art and 5 children. (Children = students whom I tutored). But I can't really give up on any of them. They all form parts of my identity; they're all important.

It was particularly trying when the 5 children are having prelims/ O levels and I have to rush out lab reports +  churn out essays + prepare for tests. Friends (?) advised me to just skip a few tuition sessions. I can't for it's irresponsible. And I can't because some kids actually look forward to these sessions.

Thankfully, I managed to maintain my grades.

As I write this post, I remember the story about prioritising:

A professor walked into a class and filled an empty jar with rocks. "Do you think I can add any more stuff to this jar?" The class replied with an emphatic No.

"Really?" The prof then proceeded to add stones to the jar.  "Do you think I can add more stuff?" The class replied with an uncertain No.

He went on to include pebbles and sand. "This is the story of our lives. Had we filled the jar with sand, will we be able to fit in what matters?

We have to remind ourselves of what is important. In the greater scheme, certain objects or qualities that appear important may lose their luster.

The prof then poured some Coke into the jar. A student stood up and asked, "why the Coke, sir?"

"Ahh, I'm glad you asked. There is always time to kick back and relax with a glass of Coke."

All in all
What can I say? What have I learnt? I skimmed through this verbose entry, seeking the common thread.

I'm more comfortable with failures. With failing and acknowledging that I've failed. This means that I'm less critical of my endeavors. It also means that I've been more willing to try, to experience.

I'm more comfortable with contingencies too, with the unknowns and unexpected and unpredictable.

I've stretched myself and didn't live life cautiously. To my surprise, I didn't judge that stretched man in the mirror - not that much, at least.


Growing Orchids


Recently, my friends and I were in Dalat, Vietnam. 

This city was breathtakingly beautiful. There were sprays of flowers everywhere. Roses, orchids, blooms that we saw only in advertisements. Crimson blossoms that looked like scarlet snowdrops. The city was preparing for their once-in-5-years Flower Festival. 

Since Dalat is in the mountain ranges, it has wonderfully cool weather year round. 

Year round, the winds whisper stories with dulcet tones. The sun shines with an indulgent glow. All locals describe it as a wonderful place for romance and beauty. 

Kind of awesome.

I brought back some orchid cuttings for my grandma.

Planting them in sorgum moss:

Planted! :

Ultimate goal: 
Blooms the size of my clenched fist 

Brilliant place. Only wished that my family and more friends were with me. 


The Fundamental Purpose of Environmental Ethics

in ,

Fairly glad that I wrote this UPI2205: Ethics & The Environment essay the way I envisioned it. Had I listened to my friend's advice, I'd have written an uninspiring piece that panders to the the opinions of the Prof.

In a way, I'm glad that I defended my own ideas even when I may be marked down for it. Some ideas, I realise, are worth asserting.
In the late 1950s, Rachel Louise Carson, an American scientist, turned her attention to the conservation of the natural environment. Her book, “Silent Spring” (1962), explores the toxic effects of pesticide residues and is widely regarded as a rallying point for the fledgling environmental movement. In 1970, the first Earth Day was inaugurated; the next year, the first conference on environmental philosophy was held at the University of Georgia, USA. Since then, ethical questions concerning the treatment of nonhumans became increasingly significant and groundbreaking articles on environmental philosophies were written.

These moral philosophies, drawing from diverse ethical traditions, may be understood according to two broad definitions – anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism. The anthropocentric approaches suggest that any analysis of nature must be human-centered. Social ecology, ecofeminism and weak anthropocentrism are notable examples of such anthropocentric ethics. Their conceptual counterparts, non-anthropocentric paradigms, argue for an appreciation of nature from nonhuman perspectives and can be classified under three main positions – biocentrism, ecocentrism as well as deep ecology.

This development of multiple environmental ethics parallels the rapid industrial growth of nations and the resultant deterioration of nature. Most ethicists – if not all – agree that is it wrong to treat nature without respect, to inflict needless destruction (Nuyen, 2011, p.215). The ecological world desperately needs the damaging human population to adopt an ethics that will reverse, or at least slow down, environmental degradation.

As a member of the natural environment at large and human society in specific, I am morally obliged to contribute to the conservation of Nature. For me, examining this topic is a timely opportunity to develop a personal ethic that encourages the responsible stewardship of the natural environment.

The Values of Nature

Values can be described by many broad terms, inclusive of but not restricted to their utility, aesthetics, origins and essence. My interpretation of what is environmentally ethical cannot be divorced from the values that I attribute to nature. Before I share these values, allow me to generally describe the multifarious values that Nature has.

Subjects that are valuable, in and of themselves, can be described as having intrinsic value. They are cherished ends, not merely means to a valued end. They have non-anthropocentric value. And from the perspectives of non-anthropocentrism, Nature has this intrinsic value which eclipses its homocentric instrumental values. Rolston (1994, p.14), a prominent environmentalist and biocentrist, advocates that intrinsic value is a real property of natural objects and processes, not projected onto nature but discovered there:
“Consider a whooping crane defending its own life, or the wild gardenias synthesizing glucose using photosynthesis, converting this to starch, and storing energy. The animals, sometimes, will be subjects of their own lives, and they too will have their preferences, simplified perhaps, but in some respects more or less like our own. […] Such a living organism is, I maintain, a being with a good of its own.”
The intrinsic value that Nature has cannot be proved,observed or quantified with ease. According to Rolston, nature’s intrinsic value is fully independent of a human valuing consciousness. Individual organisms, species and ecosystems have values which they are both sources and loci of, and people are obliged to respect them.

One flaw of such a non-anthropocentric paradigm stems from its fundamental stance of ascribing nonhuman subjects with “intrinsic worth/biospecies equality” (Devall and Sessions, 1985, p. 146). Biocentrism, for example, argues that all living beings have moral standing; ecocentrism attributes not only living beings but also natural ecosystems with intrinsic value; deep ecologists embrace a quasi-mystical perspective that all things in the biosphere are interdependent and “have an individual right to live and blossom and reach their own forms of unfolding and self-realization” (Devall and Sessions, 1985, p.145). These non-anthropocentric ethics claim that natural properties – such as integrity, beauty and biodiversity – can provide an independent, non-human basis for valuing nature. However, according to skeptics, such qualities are neither intrinsic nor non-anthropocentric. In “A Critique of Anti-Anthropocentric Ethics, Richard Watson (1983, p.157) argues that non-anthropocentric approaches are, in essence, anthropocentric:
“The notion of a climax situation in ecology is a human invention, based on anthropocentric ideas of variety, completion, wholeness and balance. […] What would it be, after all, to think like a mountain as Aldo Leopold is said to have recommended? It would be anthropocentric because mountains do not think, but also because mountains are imagined to be thinking which human interests in their preservation or development they prefer.”
Attributing the environment with non-anthropocentric values requires us to place ourselves in their positions and imagine their viewpoints from our outsider human perspectives; this, ultimately, is a human-centered endeavor. It is “logically impossible”, Nuyen (1981, p.221) maintains, to “know how an animal thinks about itself and about human beings”. Likewise, the genuine feelings of mountains and plants cannot be rationally known. Grey (1993, p. 464) agrees and suggests that if we “attempt to step too far outside the scale of the recognizably human, rather than expanding and enriching our moral horizons, we render them meaningless, or at least almost unrecognizable.”

To ascribe nature with intrinsic value is a contentious approach; due to this arguable attribution of intrinsic value to nature, non-anthropocentrism, at its very core, may not be as non-anthropocentric as it appears to be. The attribution of anthropocentric values, on the other hand, avoids the aforementioned fallacies.

According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1785, p.61), humans alone have self-consciousness; humans are therefore fundamentally different in rank and dignity from all other beings, while nature can be treated as means to human ends. His argument, while somewhat absolute, is representative of the homocentric tendency to appraise a subject with reference to one’s needs and wants. The subject, by itself, is not valuable; it is only valuable because it can be used to accomplish a goal desired by the human valuer and are correspondingly tagged as having instrumental values. In Kantian diction, they are means to an end but not an end in itself. Nature, with its diverse landscapes, animals and plants, can contribute to numerous aspects of human welfare and consequently, has many instrumental uses – it preserves a stockpile of genetic materials that may prove useful in curing diseases or improving crop yields; it allows greater understanding of the intricate biological systems; it purifies air by trapping pollutants. Beyond instrumental uses associated with science, Nature can also be mined for commodities such as precious metals and timber – which have quantifiable economic value – or harnessed as serene places for spiritual rejuvenation and recreational activities (Grey, 1992). These various instrumental values of Nature – be they scientific, economic or entertainment oriented – are extrinsic and can only be realized by exploiting Nature’s utility. In these examples, Nature is only valuable because of the substantial benefits it offers. It is treasured due to the anthropocentric values that it has. The values that Nature may possess are the subject of much robust debate. In the following sections, I will reflect on my experience with this discipline of environmental ethics.

My Personal Experiences with Nature

As I wondered about the values that I would attribute to Nature and how my personal environmental ethics would be like, I was somewhat befuddled and did not know where to begin. My past journal entries became a starting point for my introspection. On Dec 27, 2010, after traipsing through Brunei’s rainforest and floating atop Vietnam’s saltwater bay, I wrote an entry for my online journal:

For moments like this, some people wait a lifetime.

I remember that one time when I stood on the top of the mountain in Brunei. In the distance, the emerald green sea of trees merged with the sapphire waters. The air was so achingly clean, so unfamiliarly refreshing.

I had felt small but not powerless, insignificant yet content. It was a commune with Nature.

At that instance, everything faded into obscurity. Nothing mattered - not money, not work, not studies. Nothing mattered except for the complete awareness of something powerful, deeply ancient and omniscient.

I felt loved simply because I wasn't judged or evaluated or appraised. I didn't feel like I'm an individual. I felt as though I was part of the greater cosmos; a mere speck but nevertheless, a part.

In Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, the same feeling revisited.

Bobbing within the bay of serene waters, surrounded by natural monuments... One could simply hear the alluring whispers of Nature. The tapestry of stars weaving throughout the void above - individually pretty, collectively impressive - delighted.

The sense of self disintegrated and merged with the beauty beyond.

Even in Singapore, within the forests of Ubin or atop the tidebreakers of East Coast, one may enjoy the same feelings. Even within the soulless concrete jungles, one may turn one's face skywards and revel in a cloudy panorama.

Each commune with Nature is profound and enlightening. Each time is different and yet, enchantingly similar.

On October 29, 2010, I was frustrated with the lack of breakthroughs in my art. I took some time off, went out and saw the clouds:

Am taken aback by the spools of cotton wefting across the azure skies.

Clouds are beautiful. They were, are and will be continue to be beautiful. But today's clouds, they are special.

They stretch endlessly across the skies, little pristine patches of white against a dainty china blue. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Once, when I was feeling frustrated with drawing, someone told me to look at clouds and be dazzled by them. "The clouds that God painted." Today, as I am immersing myself in these fluffy joys, I recall this friend's words.

A sea of patchy whiteness unfolds forward and backward endlessly.

It seems to be a good way to meditate, to look at the skies above and feel their ancient wisdom flowing through every fiber. Nothing matters, not to these clouds.

They float along, peacefully, serenely. They want for nothing.

In the greater context of life, many things we feel are important may actually only appear to be important. Cloudy steps.

There's no need for a resolute approach/ intellectual rigour when viewing clouds.

Simply look at them, appreciate their beauty and step away from the mindless races.

I had felt an internal conflict as I examined this debate between anthropocentrists and non-anthropocentrists. As a Science student, I am concerned with logic and sense; anthropocentrists’ claims, based soundly on intellectual reasoning, are persuasive. Logically, I agree with the numerous arguments against the attribution of intrinsic value to Nature.

However, like most people, I am not only rational; I am intuitive too. The privileges of being in different natural biospheres, including Brunei’s primary rainforest and Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, have created an appreciation of Nature that logic alone cannot explain. Emotionally, I find it difficult to agree that the calm peace inspired by the natural surroundings is simply an anthropocentric reaction. As Blaise Pascal, a French physicist and theologian once said, “le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point,” which may be translated loosely as, “my heart has reasons that Reason knows not”. There is a beauty in our natural environment that I cannot comprehend aptly with logic and that homocentric perspectives cannot emotionally justify. To me, this debate between anthropocentrists and non-anthropocentrists may be boiled down to a discussion of the logic/intuition dualism. Anthropocentrists have attacked non-anthropocentric ethics for their internal logical fallacies, claiming that they are essentially anthropocentric (Watson, 1983, p.157). At the other end of the spectrum, drawing from theological and intuitive grounds, non-anthropocentrists claim that it is “morally arrogant” to ascribe values solely from the human vantage (Naess, 1989, p. 187). For many years, these two contrary positions could not be reconciled for they were arguing on different fronts. It is akin to comparing the seas with the skies: both are so different that it is difficult to seek a common ground. From a perspective based on sound logic, Nature has anthropocentric values; from an intuitive standpoint, nature possesses non-anthropocentric values. Neither environmental philosophy is more right than the other; both make sense in fundamentally distinct and incomparable ways. Debating these philosophies is important for it broadens our ethical considerations but we should not be caught up in the debate and miss the forest for the trees. All environmental philosophies, in essence, agree that our collective natural heritage is threatened and aim to conserve it. The approaches may be different, but the intentions, same.

Our Present Predicament

What are we to do – we who are properly sceptical and scientific minded – with this intrinsic value that cannot be quantified with ease? We cannot touch this force. We have no decent way of measuring it. Yet, it exists. Intuitively, we know it is real. Are we to operate with tunnel vision and ignore it because it does not fit in easily with accepted concepts of reason? To do so seems perilous. I do not think we can hope to approach a full understanding of Nature and mankind’s position in it without incorporating and acknowledging the presence of intrinsic value in our conceptual framework. Yet, we cannot reject the arguments that non-anthropocentrists raise. I am, therefore, reluctant to identify myself as an anthropocentrist or non-anthropocentrist. Nature, I submit, may be appreciated from both positions by the same individual at the same time. From the position of carefully-reasoned logic, I am anthropocentric; a quiet sense of intuition, however, swayed me to the perspectives of non-anthropocentrism. On distinct, incomparable levels, I subscribe to the tenets of both environmental philosophies. I see no need to situate myself on either side of this logic/intuition-anthropocentric/non-anthropocentric argument. I do not see this as an either/or dualism and wish to avoid being labeled as a biocentrist, weak anthropocentrist or social ecologist.

While there are key conceptual distinctions between disparate environmental ethics, there is a need to recognize that they share a common goal – that of conserving our natural environment. My personal environmental ethics allow me to combine the best traits from both anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric perspectives; it may be vulnerable to criticisms, but it provides sufficient impetus for me to contribute to the fundamental purpose of environmental ethics. Outsiders may view this simultaneous attribution of both anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric values as contradictory but I see this as being compatible on different levels. By drawing on sentiments from both paradigms, I have adapted an environmental ethics that has strong logical reasoning and, at the same time, appeal to my intuition.

There should be an agreement that the human society is pluralistic and comprises of individuals with differing perspectives; there is room enough to accommodate divergent environmental ethics. What is critical is that each should seek to develop a personal ethics that will encourage a lasting appreciation of Nature. Nature, with its pristine tracts of fauna and flora, requires our responsible stewardship. By accepting and appreciating the nuances of various values ascribed to it, influential stakeholders – including environmentalists, companies and governments – can understand perspectives divergent from theirs and, with this awareness, cooperate to promote a more harmonious relationship with Nature. Leopold (1949, p. 217), an ecologist who campaigned for wilderness conservation, rationalizes: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Leopold’s statement reflects the two views that most may have of Nature. It may be reinterpreted through the lenses of consequentialism; a central tenet of this philosophy implies that it does not matter how societies view Nature – be it as a commodity to be managed or a community to respect – as long as they work towards protection of their emerald treasures. By acknowledging that different values exist and recognizing that individuals are free to ascribe these diverse values to Nature, there is a common basis for collective action.

At this time of writing, the British Broadcasting Channel (BBC) reports that no wild black rhinos remain in West Africa, a subspecies of white rhino in central Africa is possibly extinct and the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was poached and has passed away. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) discovers that, despite conservation efforts, 25% of the world’s mammals are at risk of extinction. Meanwhile, the degradation of natural systems continues. Statistics, as reported by National Geographic, paint a grim picture. More than 80% of the Earth’s natural forests have already been destroyed; up to 90% of West Africa’s coastal rain forests have disappeared since 1900; Brazil and Indonesia, which contain the world’s two largest surviving regions of rainforests, are being stripped at an alarming rate for agriculture, cattle-grazing and mining.

Given our current predicament, it is critical for environmental ethicists to work together to protect the environment. Yes, it is important to expand our moral horizons by debating environmental ethics, but it is pressing to conserve whatever natural organisms and places that now tether on the edge of disappearance. There is an agreement that Nature is valuable, albeit in different, incomparable ways. There is an agreement that environmental destruction is occurring at unprecedented and unsustainable rates and must be halted.

What Rachel Carson said in April, 1963, remains relevant today. Not long after “Silent Spring” was published and became a bestseller, she stood in front of an estimated 15 million Americans on a CBS program and said:
“I think we’re challenged, as mankind has never been challenged before, to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves.”
It is time for ethicists with divergent environmental philosophies to agree to disagree and collaborate to reverse environmental damages. Certain aspects of nature, once destroyed, may never exist again.


Anonymous. 2011. Human Impact – Deforestation and Desertification. National Geographic. Retrieved from:

Boettcher, Daniel. 2011. Western black rhino declared extinct. British Broadcasting Channel. Retrieved from:

Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin.

Devall, Bill and Sessions, George. 1985. Deep Ecology. Environmental Ethics, Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, p. 143 – 148.

Grey, William. 1992. The Value of Wilderness. The Trumpeter, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Summer 86)

Holmes, Rolston III. 1994. Value In Nature And The Nature of Value. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, pg 13-30.

Kant, Immanuel. 1785. Rational beings alone have moral worth. Environmental Ethics, Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, p.61.

Leopold, Aldo. 1949. The Land Ethic: A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press Inc, p. 217.

Naess, Arne. 1989. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, First Edition, p. 187.

Nuyen, Anh Tuan. 1981. An Anthropocentric Ethics Towards Animals and Nature. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, p. 215 – 223.

Watson, Richard. 1983. A Critique of Anti-Anthropocentric Ethics. Environmental Ethics, Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, p. 156 – 163.


The Serenity Prayer


God grant us the
Serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.

Source Credit: Google Images
A cascading sentence of beauty that reminds us to live our lives the way we should. A timely reminder in this fluxing age.


Dreams & Reality at the National Museum


Dreams and Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from the Musee d'Orsay, Paris is currently exhibiting at the National Museum till 5 Feb 2012. 

It took me quite some time just to type out the title of this wondrous exhibition. Phew. Have absolutely no idea why the title is such a tongue twisting string of words.

Please do yourself a favour and visit it. For Singapore students, it really is worth the price. Basically, you get to visit this exhibition for free. My friend, with his usual succinctness, expressed it well. "We don't pay any entrance fees. And get to see masterpieces by Van Gogh and Degas. This is definitely worth it."

Upon entering the hall, we saw a beautiful painting of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. She has emerged from the waves, spawned from the brain juice of Ouranos, the Sky God. (Sorry, you don't really have to know that.) Her face is captivating, with an expression of dreamy wonder.

This artwork is big and, I suspect, will entertain my army mates and JC friends really well.

There's also this lovely work, splashed with pastoral patches of colours and light. It speaks of a knight who traversed through a field of perdition and wasn't tempted by his desires. He had ignored the ladies frolicking about him and will go on to perform a great deed. (This tale sounds familiar, hmm. I'm not sure what that great deed is. Perhaps he scored a string of A1s for his O levels.)

Now, to the realistic portrayal of people. Portraits are always engrossing. They offer their subjects up for scrutiny. We are granted license to look at strangers without a gnawing sense of discomfort. We see them and it feels as though they're looking at us too.

Beautifully painted.

I'm not really sure who did the following painting. Apparently, it was by someone famous. Can't really recall his name now. Perhaps it'll come back to me in time.

Oh oh, just remembered. This artwork was by Henri Rosseau, a poet-cum-painter. I shall refrain from further commentary.

I'm wondering what the lady is doing. Her posture is, erm, weird.

What are you waiting for? This is a rare chance to catch one of Van Gogh's Starry Night painting without travelling to Europe/US. Van Gogh had committed suicide at the age of 37, having only sold one painting in his lifetime. He painted this piece one year before he passed away; hence, there are 36 stars in the painting. 

Look at the lady above. She's waiting for you. Don't disappoint her.

(Although she may just be afraid of getting tanned.  Rather understandable - Estee Lauder/ SKII probably doesn't exist during her time.)


On a Business Case Study Competition


Recently, my friends and I took part in a business case study competition.

It was somewhat surprising, how I managed to be involved in this. I saw the team leader; he asked  me if I was interested; I said I would join only if I wouldn't be a liability; he said they would consider about it; we parted; about two weeks later, out of the blue, I received an email from the leader to meet at a place for discussion.

It was part of the "Remaking Me, Experience Life" campaign, I supposed. To take part in different activities and stretch my growth. There was a growing realisation that many people around me were studying and consuming without awareness, satisfied with living life without being alive. I didn't want this. I didn't want to be like this.

This competition was eye-opening in many ways. I had to pick up on the basics of marketing in a few day (managed to acquire a vocabulary of technical jargons although I'm a long way from applying them well). I didn't manage to contribute much ideas (since I wasn't trained in business) and felt rather useless during discussions. I managed only one hour of sleep during the 24 hours challenge (a nightmare since I sleep at least 7 hours regularly). I didn't have proper meals and  broke my golden rule of not having snacks.

From these activities, I've gained many insights into the technicalities of business:

We long for people to fail. In their failures, we become stronger.

During presentations, we analysed our opponents' merits - or lack thereof. We whispered our observations, snug in the row furthest away from the stage. We fretted when they presented well and tried to extinguish our glee when they slipped.

*This is a problem not restricted to business. It happens whenever there is competition of any form.

We're told what's cool and we buy into it.

There is a newfound respect for marketeers. They devote their life to selling products, to telling people what to buy.

Sometimes, they tell people what they need. That they can be happy if and only if they possess product XXX.

The next time you want to buy an Apple product, consider the efforts of an army of marketeers telling you what to buy and the expensive marketing campaigns subtly guiding your consumptive habits. (I'm not telling you what to not buy, but to consider your decisions with greater wisdom.)

In each transaction, there's a loser.

On the stage, when we were about to receive the results, all of us were trembling. We had done well thus far but really wanted to go further.

And we got through! :]

We're going to Vietnam for the final round! (Exuberant, exhilarated, exciting!) Our joy was encompassing. We were relieved and glad and hopeful. Having a mere hour of sleep, irregular meals and horrible caffeinated products didn't feel that torturous after all.

Those tidal waves of felicity ebbed when I left Hon Sui Sen Memorial Hall. Outside, groups that didn't get through were languishing and their disappointment was compelling.

In every competition, there will be fewer winners than losers.

A fight, always.


Series of Photos


Streams of consciousness


Decembers are unusually apt months for self reflection. Activities taper off into a pleasant lull, time expands and opportunities flower. 

This year, he had tried many activities that he wouldn't have foreseen himself trying last December. It felt ... strange. Not strange in a bad way, he supposes, but strange in the strange way.

He had written poems and read them to strangers. He had displayed some art at two galleries. He, through some unfathomable twist of fate, am taking part in a business case study competition (and feels woefully inadequate in every group meeting). 

In the second part of the year, he began to try. Try harder and wider. He realised he was lapsing into the comfort and monotony of daily life.

How easy it is, to fall into the numbing rhythm. One moment of inattention and months would have passed before he realised precious time was being whiled away. How easy it is, to study, have fun, eat, sleep and pollute the natural environment.

He had been drawn, inexorably, like many others, into the whirlpool of self centric paradigms. He had been sucked into the comfortable existence, mindless and unaware.

He isn't really sure what he's writing now. Streams of consciousness, perhaps. But, it doesn't matter, does it?


Musings about Life and Death


I had typed, deleted and re-typed this introduction. Each paragraph had seemed superfluous, wholly incapable of describing my melancholy. Words wafted in and out of existence.

I can't be bothered with writing a proper introduction anymore. It really doesn't matter. Other events matter. Life matters. So does Death.

How, how do we justify our existence in the light of death and diseases?

Wondering. Considering. Praying.

I am sad. Or feeling sad. Or both. I can't tell the difference between the two states. I can tell the difference between an electron in the ground/excited state but I can't tell the difference between being sad and feeling sad. It's as though my emotions are in a limbo, fluxing about, eluding my attempts to conceive them.

Sad, for who? For my Music/English teacher who passed away last week from cancer and left her children behind. For my primary school friend who realised during the same week that she was suffering from Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.

What are we to do? We, who are properly concerned with achieving good grades, enlarging our social circles and learning piles of notes. We, who are concerned with DoTA, How I Met Your Mother and SNSD?

It's easy to be caught up with all this. It's easy to lose sight of what matters, of what could be and should be. It takes tragedies - not just one, perhaps one after another - to jolt us out of our stupor. 

There are stuff that we take for granted. Really, we shouldn't. 

"i’ve been diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). the past six days felt like a stormy sea with troughs and ridges. i had the worst but also the best. i had my greatest fears but I received the greatest love. i had the greatest uncertainties, but the most reassurances. i had blood and marrow drawn from me but I received blood and medication that heals me. i vomited my food due to side effects of medication, but I had tons of home-cooked food made with love fed by my mom. i got carried out of the shower for almost fainting, but i've been showered with love and care from the nurses here. i cried for days and nights, but people cried for me more. i fight the disease, but not alone. my parents flew back from their business trip just for me. my brother was the sweetest. my sis was supportive. my relatives were more worried than i am. my friends too. i feel pain and suffering, but the heart aches the most. i love everyone whom had prayed for me and sent me their well-wishes. rest assured, they have actually been answered. i’m fighting the disease no matter what."
- an excerpt from a Facebook post by my friend

Perhaps it's time to examine our focus in life and living.


Lab Report on Hydrolysis of tert-butyl Chloride in polar solvents


The lab report below was submitted as part of the coursework for CM1131 Basic Physical Chemistry. Please do not plagiarise from it as plagiarism might land you into trouble with your university. Do note that my report is well-circulated online and many of my juniors have received soft copies of it. Hence, please exercise prudence while referring to it and, if necessary, cite this webpage.

Hydrolysis of tert-butyl Chloride in polar solvents

1. Aims

Measure the rate of reaction for the hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride in two polar solvent systems – namely, water/acetone and water/isopropanol mixtures – by titrating the product HCl with NaOH.

Observe and account for the change in reaction rates when different solvent systems are used.

Calculate the corresponding rate coefficients for the hydrolysis reaction in different solvent systems.

2. Introduction

2-chloro-2-methylpropane, commonly known as t-butyl chloride, is a colourless organic compound belonging to the homologous series of halogenoalkanes. It is a tertiary halogenoalkane as the carbon bonded to the chlorine atom is also directly bonded to three other methyl (-CH3) groups.

As chlorine is more electronegative than carbon, it is electron-withdrawing, thus creating a partial positive charge (δ+) on the carbon atom and a partial negative charge (δ-) on the chlorine atom. Due to this polar nature, t-butyl chloride tends to undergo spontaneous solvolysis when dissolved in water. Solvolysisis a simple nucleophilic substitution in which the nucleophile is also the solvent.

In the presence of polar water molecules, the C-Cl bond is broken and replaced by a C-OH bond. The products of this reaction are hydrochloric acid and 2-methyl-2-propanol.
This is an example of an SN1 reaction as the rate determining step (RDS), or the slowest step in a series of elementary steps, involves only one molecule as the reactant. As such, the rate of the overall reaction is influenced by the rate of the unimolecular RDS.

To initiate a chemical reaction, the reactant molecules must first possess energy ≥ activation energy. The rate of a chemical reaction is influenced by several factors, including the nature of the solvent. In this experiment, the effects of two different polar solvents on the rate of reaction will be investigated.

3. Experimental

3.1 Preparation of reaction mixtures (acetone/water and isopropanol/water)

To 50 cm3 of water in a stoppered bottle, 50 cm3 of acetone was added in. 1.00 cm3 of t-butyl chloride liquid was transferred into the stoppered bottle with a micropipette and the mixture was shaken. The stopwatch was started at the instant t-butyl chloride was added. The flask remained stoppered except when aliquots of the solution were removed for titration.

Another mixture was prepared with acetone being replaced by the same volume of isopropanol.

3.2 Preparation of an “infinity time” sample”

A 10.00 cm3 sample of the reaction mixture was removed using a pipette and added into a stoppered conical flask containing 50 cm3 of water. The mixture was left to stand for at least 90 minutes. The high concentration of water drove the reaction to completion.

3.3 Titration preparations

At every 15 minutes interval, a 10 cm3 aliquot of the reaction mixture was removed using a pipette and placed in an Erlenmeyer flask containing 15 cm3 of acetone to quench the reaction. 3 drops of bromothymol blue indicator was added to the flask, and the reaction mixture was then titrated against the standardized 0.04102M NaOH solution. When nearing the equivalence point, NaOH was added in a dropwise manner. The end point was a blue colouration that persisted for 10 seconds. The volume of NaOH used was then recorded.

After the titration of all required samples (up to 90 minutes), the reaction mixture in the “infinity time” sample was titrated against the standardized 0.04047M NaOH solution in the same way. The volume of NaOH used was then recorded.

4. Results

Volume of t-butyl chloride: 1.00 cm3

Molarity of standardized NaOH: 0.04102 M

Titration reaction: HCl + NaOHNaCl + H2O

Number of moles of HCl = Number of moles of NaOH used

=0.04102 M × (Volume of NaOH used in cm^3)/1000

[HCl] is therefore =(Number of moles of HCl)/10x 1000

4.1 For 50/50 acetone/water with t-butyl chloride

Time/mins 15 30 45 60 75 90

Volume of NaOH(aq)/cm3 6.20 9.60 12.30 14.40 16.10 17.10

[HCl]t /moldm-3 0.02543 0.03938 0.05045 0.05907 0.06604 0.07014

Volume of NaOH(aq) used for the 10cm3 infinity time sample: 19.00 cm3

Number of moles of HCl in infinity time sample = 0.04102 M ×19.00/1000 dm^3= 0.0007794mol

[HCl]∞ is therefore = 0.0007794/10 x 1000 = 0.07794 moldm-3

4.2 For 50/50 water/isopropanol with t-butyl chloride

Time/mins 15 30 45 60 75 90

Volume of NaOH(aq)/cm3 6.50 9.90 12.70 14.70 16.30 17.80

[HCl]t /moldm-3 0.02666 0.04061 0.05210 0.06030 0.06686 0.07302

Volume of NaOH(aq) used for the 10cm3 infinity time sample: 20.30 cm3

Number of moles of HCl in infinity time sample = 0.04102 M ×20.30/1000 dm^3= 0.0008327mol

[HCl]∞ is therefore = 0.0008327/10 x 1000 = 0.08327 moldm-3

4.3 ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) against time for 50/50 acetone/water with t-butyl chloride

Time/mins 15 30 45 60 75 90

([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) 0.05251 0.03856 0.02749 0.01887 0.01190 0.007800

ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) -2.947 -3.256 -3.594 -3.97 -4.431 -4.854

4.4ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) against time for 50/50 water/isopropanol with t-butyl chloride

Time/mins 15 30 45 60 75 90

([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) 0.05661 0.04266 0.03117 0.02297 0.01641 0.01025

ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) -2.872 -3.154 -3.468 -3.774 -4.120 -4.580

From the above diagram, it can be observed that the graphs of ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t)against time for both mixtures produce a straight line. It can be concluded that both reactions follow a first-order trend.

Since the gradient of the straight line is the rate coefficient of the reaction, the pseudo first-order rate coefficient of the 50/50 acetone/water mixture with t-butyl chloride is0.0224¬ min-1and that of the 50/50 water/isopropanol mixture with t-butyl chloride is 0.0356 min-1.

Derivation to account for the determination of rate of reaction from graphs of ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t)against time

To determine the order of a reaction, the rate law must first be derived in the form of differential equations, and then it can be integrated to obtain an equation involving concentration as a function of time. The hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride has been found to be an SN1 reaction, which means that only one molecule is involved as a reactant in the RDS. A proposed mechanism (as demonstrated in the next section) shows that the RDS is the formation of a carbocation intermediate from t-butyl chloride. Therefore, the rate of reaction should be proportional to the concentration of t-butyl chloride.

i.e. Rate =k[CH3C-Cl] =-(d〖[CH〗_3 C-Cl])/dt where k is the rate coefficient

Integrating, we get

Therefore, ln[(CH3)3C-Cl]t = -kt + ln[(CH3)3C-Cl]0 ------(1)

Since the mole ratio (CH3)3C-Cl : HCl is 1:1, the amount of (CH3)3C-Cl at the beginning of the reaction is equal to the amount of HCl of the infinity sample,
i.e [(CH3)3C-Cl]0 = [HCl]∞ ------(2)
and the rate of consumption of (CH3)3C-Cl at any instant is equal to the rate of formation of HCl, i.e. -(d〖[CH〗_3 C-Cl])/dt = (d[HCl])/dt

Therefore the amount of (CH3)3C-Cl at any time t is equal to the initial amount of (CH3)3C-Cl minus the amount of HCl formed at time t

i.e. [(CH3)3C-Cl]t = [HCl]∞ - [HCl]t ------(3)

Substituting equations (2) and (3) into (1),

we get ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) = -kt + ln[HCl]∞

Therefore, the graph of ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t)against time (t) will yield a straight line with gradient –k, with k as the rate coefficient of the reaction and ln[HCl]∞as the y-intercept.
Suggested mechanism for the hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride in a polar solvent

The overview of the suggested mechanism:
The schematic representation of suggested mechanism:

Step 1: Heterolytic fission of C-Cl bond to form carbocation intermediate (rate determining step)
Step 2: Nucleophilic attack of the carbocationto form a high energy transition state between the carbocation and water (fast step)
Step 3: Formation of 2-methyl-2-propanol by a hydrogen ion leaving the transition state complex (fast step)

5. Discussion

Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution curve shows that the more stable the reaction intermediates, the lower the Ea. This will favour the forward reaction and hence, result in a higher rate coefficient.

The effects of activation energy, Ea, on rate coefficient, k

The activation energy is the minimum energy that reactant molecules must possess in order to initiate a chemical reaction. In this experiment, the solventsystemsaffectthe rate of reaction by influencing the activation energy of the reaction. According to the Arrhenius’ equation,

i.e. k = Ae^(-E_A/RT)

Therefore at constant temperature, a decrease in EA will increase k, which means that the reaction rate will increase.

Accounting for the SN1 mechanism over SN2

According to literature, the hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride is an SN1 reaction. It is a nucleophilic substitution reaction where one reactant molecule is involved in the slow step, or rate determining step. The one reactant molecule involved is the one being hydrolysed, which in this case is t-butyl chloride itself. Another form of nucleophilic substitution is SN2 reaction, which means that two reactant molecules are involved in the rate determining step. For such a reaction, the two molecules are the halogenoalkane and the attacking nucleophile.

The hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride is more energetically favored as an SN1 reaction than as an SN2 reaction. This is due to steric hindrance caused by the 3 bulky methyl groups adjacent to the central C atom bonded to the chlorine atom; therefore the nucleophile cannot access and attack the electron deficient C atom effectively in an SN2 reaction. Moreover, in an SN1 reaction, the intermediate carbocation is stabilized by 3 electron-donating methyl groups surrounding the C atom, thus alleviating the positive charge on it. This occurs by hyperconjugation3which is the interaction of the C-C sigma bond electrons with the adjacent empty p-orbitals of the central carbon atom, thus supplying electrons to the electron-deficient central carbon atom to stabilize the strong positive charge. Hence, an SN1 reaction is favored.

Accounting for the pseudo first-order nature of reaction

SN1 reactions in which the nucleophile is also the solvent are commonly called solvolysis reactions. In this experiment, water is both the nuclophile and the solvent. Solvent as the nucleophile makes kinetic order indeterminate (pseudo-first-order because [solvent] is ≈ constant).

The polarity of the solvent systems

From calculations, the reaction rate for the 50/50 water/isopropanol mixture is higher than the reaction rate for the 50/50 acetone/water mixture, as the k coefficient for the former is larger than for the latter. Both isopropanol/water and acetone/water are polar solvent systems.

The polarity of the solvent affects the rate of the reaction through the solvent effect. The solvent effect is the interaction of the solvent molecules with the carbocation intermediate to stabilize it. The solvent molecules orient around the carbocation so that the electron rich ends of the solvent dipoles face the positive charge, thereby lowering the energy of the ion and favoring its formation4.

Therefore, the more polar the molecule, the stronger interaction it can have with the carbocation, resulting in a more stabilized carbocation. According to literature, the polarity of a molecule is indicated by its dielectric constant. The higher the dielectric constant, the more polar is the molecule. The dielectric constant for acetone at 25oC is 20.7 and that for isopropanol at 25oC is 18.35. According to these values, acetone is a more polar solvent than isopropanol, and so should accelerate the hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride better than isopropanol. However, given the experimental results, this is not the case. Hence another factor needs to be considered – whether the solvent is protic.

The protic/aprotic nature of the solvent systems

Isopropanol is a polar protic solvent as an H atom is bonded to an electronegative O atom, and therefore is able to dissociate to form H+ ions. Acetone is a polar aprotic solvent as all its H atoms are bonded to C atoms and are unable to dissociate.

A polar protic solvent will not only stabilize the carbocation intermediate as mentioned in the paragraph above, but it will also stabilize the leaving group, which in this case is the negative Cl- ion. With isopropanol as the solvent, theCl- ions formed from the heterolytic C-Cl fission of t-butyl chloride are solvated by electrostatic interactions between it and the partially positively-charged hydrogen of isopropanol, stabilizing the Cl¬- ions.

This interaction is known as hydrogen-bonding. This stabilization of both the carbocation and the leaving group further brings the activation energy down, and increases the rate of reaction. On the other hand, as acetone is a polar aprotic solvent, it is unable to stabilize the Cl- ions and so could not lower the activation energy further. Hence, isopropanol speeds up the hydrolysis reaction better than acetone, which is in agreement with the results of this experiment.

Titrimetric techniques

While titrating, the conical flask has to be swirled constantly throughout to ensure that the contents are mixed evenly. Also, some titrant may drip onto the sides of the conical flask and may not react with the solution in the conical flask. This reduces the accuracy of the results as extra titrant would be used to achieve the equivalence point. To prevent this, deionised water can be used to wash down the unreacted titrant when nearing the equivalence point and the conical flask should be swirled before continuing with the titration. To achieve consistent results, one important factor is to add in the titrant in a drop wise manner before the equivalence point.

Deionised water was used for washing the apparatus, instead of using tap water. This is because deionized water is pH neutral and will not negatively affect the results of the acid-base titrations. This is important as acid-base titrations are pH sensitive reactions.
Other factors that would affect the accuracy of the results include parallax error when taking the readings and making sure that no air bubbles are present within the pipette and burette while titrating.

Use of bromothymol blue as indicator

Bromothymol blue is a chemical indicator for measuring substances that would have relatively low acidic or basic levels (near a neutral pH), i.e. weak bases as well as weak acids4. With the use of bromothymol blue indicator, the course of titration stops when the blue end point persists for ten seconds. However, the blue colouration may turn back to its initial yellow/green in HCl. This is because the acetone added to the aliquot before titrating only stops the hydrolysis of tert-butyl chloride by a large amount and not completely, hence HCl is being produced gradually and the concentration of HCl increases. Despite this, since there is only a very small amount of HCl being produced, we can regard the end point to be the blue end point that persists for ten seconds. If the blue colouration disappears within ten seconds, the amount of NaOH used to neutralise the HCl is insufficient and more NaOH should be added.

To see the colour change at end-point more clearly, a blank piece of paper may be used as background screen while titrating.

Experimental errors and suggested improvement

To increase the accuracy of the experiment, multiple titrations can be carried out until duplicate determinations agree to within 0.05mL of each other. This ensures that the results are not once-off outliers. By averaging the two most consistent and accurate results, the probability of incurring random errors was accounted for and decreased.

The volatility of acetone and isopropanol causes the reaction mixture to evaporate. When removing aliquots of the reaction mixture, some of the acetone/isopropanol evaporates intoair and thus result in an inaccurate reading. To minimize errors, the pipetting should be done as quickly as possible so as to reduce the amount of solvent lost.

As the compounds are volatile and hence, hazardous to health, the experiment should be conducted in a fumehood.

Instead of manual shaking of the flask during titration, a magnetic stirrer may be used to ensure uniform and consistent stirring.

6. Conclusion

The rate of reaction is dependent on the nature of the solvent systems. Since the reaction is a SN1 mechanism, the forward reaction would be favoured by a polar protic solvent system which would stabilize both the reaction intermediate and leaving group.

As this is a pseudo first order reaction, the gradient of the graph ln([HCl]∞ - [HCl]t) against time (t) is equivalent to the rate coefficient. As such, the rate coefficients for the hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride in the respective solutions are:

Pseudo first order rate coefficient for reaction in acetone/water solvent = 0.0224 min-1

Pseudo first order rate coefficient for reaction in water/isopropanol solvent = 0.0356 min-1

7. References

John Mcmurry. 2007. Reactions of Alkyl Halides: Nucleophilic Substitution and Eliminations. In: Organic Chemistry (7th Edition). Brooks Cole. Pg 372 - 380


We're all old enough to be touched by tragedy


I found out, over Facebook, that one of my ex-teacher just passed away.

There is this vague sense of discomfort, of unsaid words, of perhaps, maybes and what-ifs.

I didn't really know her well. She taught me music and English; then, I wasn't the most attentive student. She was, by all accounts, a stranger.

In fleeting moments.

Not really sure what to say, how to feel. There is this sense of loss. Formless, yes. But there...


Weak Anthropocentrism - Moderating between Strong and Non-anthropocentrism


This essay is originally written for UPI2205 Ethics & The Environment.

Human beings – their future, present and past welfare – cannot be divorced from their natural surroundings. Questions regarding the ways in which human beings can and should interact with the natural environment has given rise to multiple ethical frameworks. These moral philosophies, drawing from diverse ethical traditions, may be understood according to two broad definitions – anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism. The anthropocentric approaches suggest that any analysis of nature must be human-centered. Their conceptual counterparts, non-anthropocentric paradigms, argue for an appreciation of nature from nonhuman perspectives and can be classified under three main positions – biocentrism, ecocentrism as well as deep ecology. Both anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism have ardent supporters espousing their tenets and critics arguing against their flaws. In this paper, the perceived inconsistencies of non-anthropocentrism and strong anthropocentrism will be discussed; an alternative paradigm, weak anthropocentrism will be explored and its potential to support robust environmental ethics, advocated.

I. Problems associated with non-anthropocentrism and anthropocentrism
One incongruity with non-anthropocentrism stems from its fundamental stance of ascribing nonhuman subjects with “intrinsic worth/ biospecies equality” (Devall and Sessions, 1985, p. 146). It claims that natural properties – such as integrity, beauty and biodiversity – can provide a non-human basis for valuing nature. The basis and value of subjects are assumed to lie independent of the human observers. However, according to skeptics, such qualities are neither intrinsic nor non-anthropocentric. In A Critique of Anti-Anthropocentric Ethics, Richard Watson (1983, p.157) argues that non-anthropocentric approaches are, in essence, anthropocentric:
 “The notion of a climax situation in ecology is a human invention, based on anthropocentric ideas of variety, completion, wholeness and balance. […] What would it be, after all, to think like a mountain as Aldo Leopold is said to have recommended? It would be anthropocentric because mountains do not think, but also because mountains are imagined to be thinking which human interests in their preservation or development they prefer.”
Attributing the environment with non-anthropocentric values requires us to place ourselves in their positions and imagine their viewpoints from our outsider human perspectives; this, ultimately, is a human-centered endeavor. It is “logically impossible”, Nuyen(1981, p.221) maintains, to “know how an animal thinks about itself and about human beings”. Likewise, the genuine feelings of mountains and plants cannot be rationally known. Grey (1993, p. 464) agrees and suggests that if we “attempt to step too far outside the scale of the recognizably human, rather than expanding and enriching our moral horizons, we render them meaningless, or at least almost unrecognizable.” To ascribe nature with intrinsic value is a contentious approach; from a mild anthropocentric stance, nature can be said to have inherent value as the basis of value lies within it but the source of value is in the external valuator (Nuyen, 2011, p.13). Due to this arguable attribution of intrinsic value to nature, non-anthropocentrism, at its very core, may not be as non-anthropocentric as it appears.

The controversial attribution of intrinsic value to nonhuman subjects leads to an internal inconsistency within the ethics, most aptly pointed out by Grey (1993) in Anthropocentrism and deep ecology. This, in turn, casts doubt on non-anthropocentrism’s ability to support robust environmental ethics.

On the other end of the spectrum, some anthropocentrists maintain that only humans have moral standing and intrinsic value; they claim that nature must and can only be understood from human perspectives. Of these philosophers, Immanuel Kant is perhaps the most notable. In his definitive essay, Rational beings alone have moral worth, Kant (1873, p.61) argues that “our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity”. From his perspectives, we have no duties to nonhumans, only duties to other humans; nonhumans are appraised as instruments to human interests and values. A tree, by itself, is not valuable; it is only treasured because of its potential to be exploited as a source of fuel, paper, food, medicine or entertainment. The natural subject, by itself, has no intrinsic value; it is only valuable because it can be used to accomplish a goal desired by the valuer. In Kantian diction, they are means to an end but not an end in itself. This form of anthropocentrism has been severely criticised by non-athropocentrists as assuming moral superiority over natural organisms and systems. Rolston (1998, p.113) maintains that it is “arrogant to retreat into a human-centered environmental ethics” that presume nature only to have instrumental values dependent on human valuers.

Non-anthropocentrism has been criticised as being anthropocentric in essence and failing to convey a rational, relatable appreciation of nature. One form of anthropocentrism – such as that advocated by Kant and his supporters – has been castigated as assuming moral high grounds. Given the logical lapses in non-anthropocentrism and alienating sense of moral supremacy in anthropocentrism, there is a need to develop a different environment ethics.  Robust environmentalism can only happen if supported by a system of ethics that is both internally consistent and widely accepted – conditions which the two mentioned paradigms fail to meet. Grey (1993, p.464) proposes that the problem is not with anthropocentrism but with ill-defined anthropocentrism; he sees a need to “develop an enriched, fortified anthropocentric notion of human interest”. In view of the criticisms against existing paradigms, Bryan G. Norton argues for a philosophy based loosely on human-centered paradigms and calls this “weak anthropocentrism”.

II. Weak anthropocentrism as a moderate alternative
In Environmental Ethics and Weak Anthropocentrism, Norton (1984, p.134) maintains that environmental ethics need not “justify [difficult] claims to intrinsic values” in nature. A perfectly sufficient environmental ethic, he explains, is one which can criticize value systems purely exploitative of nature. From such a perspective, environmental ethics would be principally about “concern for the protection of the resource base through indefinite time”. Norton, as a professor of philosophy as well as public policy, expresses his concerns with “creating a theory of sustainable development that captures the key role of human values in the search for better policies to protect nature and humans of the future”. He wants a theory capable of criticizing anthropocentrism that has exploited nature and yet, does not wish to attribute nature with intrinsic values. Thus, he differentiated strong anthropocentrism from weak anthropocentrism.

To fully comprehend the differences between strong and weak anthropocentrism, we must recognize two types of human desires: felt and considered preferences. A felt preference, according to Norton, is one that may be temporarily satisfied by some specific experience. A considered preference, on the other hand, is one arrived after “careful deliberations” that determines the preference to be consistent with a “rationally adopted worldview”. By rational worldview, Norton refers to a conception of the world in accordance with established scientific research, a metaphysical framework to interpret this research as well as a set of rationally supported aesthetic and moral ideals. To illustrate the difference between a felt and considered desire, suppose, for example, the act of recycling. A desire to recycle is not a felt preference; it does not fulfill any specific desire of an individual. It is, however, a considered preference in light of the individual’s rational worldview about environmental responsibility.

Having defined felt and considered preferences, Norton then regards an ethic to be strongly anthropocentric if it focuses on felt preferences alone. In the value system of strong anthropocentrism, there is “no check upon the preferences of individuals” and as a consequence, “no means to criticize the behavior of individuals who use nature merely as a storehouse of raw materials to be extracted and used for products serving human [felt] preferences”. Strong anthropocentricism – such as that assumed by Kant – could provide no balance against felt preferences that may endanger the natural world. It allows for the rapid destruction of rainforests and its subsequent conversion to farmlands, even if it may harm nonhuman organisms and systems, as long as there are substantial tangible benefits to the general human populace.

Weak anthropocentrism, by contrast, finds value in both felt and considered preferences. It determines felt preferences to be rational or irrational based on their consistency with one’s rational worldview. As a decision-making calculus, weak anthropocentrism determines what the agent wants (felt preferences) and how these interests fit in with the agent’s rational worldview (considered preferences). The weakly anthropocentric view avoids the difficulties of justifying an environment ethic from either end of the gamut. On one hand, it avoids contention over the non-anthropocentric attribution of intrinsic values to nonhuman systems and organisms. On the other hand, it avoids strong anthropocentricism’s tendency to make felt preferences the loci of all value; it explains how considered preferences within a rational worldview can account for the value in natural environments. At this point, it may be helpful to consider how weak anthropocentrism compares to non-anthropocentrism and strong anthropocentrism.

Weak anthropocentrism encourages the protection of an organism because it holds a pivotal position in the key chain, or its genetic library could potentially cure certain human diseases, or even for the sheer pleasure that observing it may bring. It attributes value to natural organisms and systems from a human-centered perspective that most people can empathise with. A non-anthropocentrist would have to justify protection of an organism by appealing to its intrinsic value. However, why a worm or fish in an isolated lake is valuable in itself is difficult for many people to relate to.

Another advantage of weak anthropocentricism is its ease as a decision-making calculus. Weighing the intrinsic value of non-human subjects is more challenging than weighing human values. Should there be a conflict in preserving the intrinsic values of two organisms, non-anthropocentrism may reveal internal inconsistencies. Take, for example, the conservation of lions. If a lion has equal intrinsic value to a cow, would that justify the killing of the lion so that many more cows would not have to die? If the lion has to be protected on the basis of it having more intrinsic value, how much more valuable is it intrinsically? And who decides it is more valuable than cows anyway? (The very act of deciding may be an anthropocentric assignment of value.) All these questions must be answered to act on a non-anthropocentric ethic. However, the problems may be resolved – or rather, avoided – by turning to weak anthropocentrism. In a rational worldview,established scientific research indicates that extinction is forever; a metaphysical framework interprets this irreversible loss in biodiversity as a corresponding loss in aesthetic ideals and a collective failure as stewards of the natural environments. Hence, weak anthropocentrism, unlike non-anthropocentrism, allows for the weighing of a lion’s value in accordance with a rational worldview; the subsequent sacrifices of more animals, which are less rare, become justifiable. Weak anthropocentrism also differs from strong anthropocentrism. The latter philosophy may claim that lions should not be preserved for they compete for food with humans; this felt preference may be checked by considered preferences in a rational worldview (as advocated by weak anthropocentrism) and hence, argued against.

Critics, however, may claim that even weak anthropocentrism falls prey to the same problem of assigning values to organisms. Whether or not one believes a lion or a cow is more valuable is always a relevant question when following a weakly anthropocentric ethic. What that may constitute a rational worldview to one may not be so to another. Admittedly, weak anthropocentrism faces the same issue in determining the value of one human’s worldview compared to another’s, but this problem is easier to resolve given more experience with and greater empathy within homocentric perspectives. This problem, on the other hand, will be more pronounced with non-anthropocentric paradigms, given that they are projecting their human perspectives on and attempting to sympathise with non-human subjects, a “logically impossible” endeavor, as Nuyen (1981, p.221) has pointed out. Also, to resort to a tu quoque response, this problem of recognizing what is valuable to different individuals is a problem for all ethical systems, and not unique to a weakly anthropocentric environmental ethic.

Non-anthropocentric ethicists often claim that weak anthropocentricism is impossible, that any anthropocentrism “taints the whole ethic because it always devolves into appeals to existing human desires” (Mendenhall, 2009, p.35). This, however, is not problematic as long as there is a clear distinction between felt and considered preferences. Maintaining this distinction will place a constraint on felt preferences, deeming them irresponsible and destructive if they are inconsistent with a rational worldview. The key here is finding a worldview that values things like ecological diversity and human consciousness. Naess (2003, p. 264), one of the founders of deep ecology, further argues against weak anthropocentrism, claiming that it is “indecent for a teacher to proclaim an ethic for tactical reasons only”. Naess’s strongly-worded criticism wholly misses the perspectives of weak anthropocentrism. The supporters of this philosophy want to expedite an agreement between environmental ethicists with strongly anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric persuasions, ultimately to campaign for the common goals of protecting the natural environments.

Weak anthropocentrism’s relation to other philosophies
Norton (1984) envisions weak anthropocentrism as an environmental ethic that eschews the contentious assignment of intrinsic value, in order to focus on pragmatic principles intended to “protect nature and humans of the future”. Weak anthropocentrism, however, did not go so far as to adopt a strong stance counter to non-anthropocentrism. Instead, it adopts a moderate position which allows for the criticism of exploitative acts towards nature – one which strong anthropocentrism does not allow. Weak anthropocentrism, thus, is amoderate foundation capable of supporting robust environmental ethics.

Felt preferences stem from the anthropocentric tendencies of humans to assign values according to their needs and wants. Because it is a must to sustain oneself through the provisions of nature, there is an element of felt preferences in all environmental ethics. Considered preferences, on the other hand, depends on adherence to a rational worldview. The protection of nature “can be justified as being implied by the ideal of harmony with nature,” Norton (1984, p.315) rationalizes, “(and) this ideal, in turn, can be justified either on religious grounds referring to human spiritual development or as being part of a rationally defensible world view”. The broadness of what constitutes a “rationally defensible world view” – be it based on logic or spiritual sensibilities –allows many philosophies to be subtended under weak anthropocentrism.

Social ecology, as advocated by Murray Bookchin (1987), is a weakly anthropocentric paradigm. It has considered preferences in terms of socio-cultural ideals and regards environmental degradation as the result of social inequalities.

Ecofeminism,in the manner envisioned by Karen Warren (1990), may be considered weakly anthropocentric too. It weighs the felt preferences of women in general and their considered preferences of an ideal whereby nature and women are treated with respect and not oppressed.

Confucian role-based ethics, as supported by A.T. Nuyen (2011), suggests that the attribution of inherent value to nature is part of a rational worldview. It may also be interpreted as weakly anthropocentric.

Even non-anthropocentric philosophies, such as biocentrism, ecocentrism and deep ecology, can be interpreted with the tenets of weak anthropocentrism. After establishing that these ethics are, essentially, anthropocentric, what constitutes a rational worldview to these philosophies may be further defined.

To biocentrists, a rational worldview attributes moral standing to all and only living things.  To ecocentrists, species, ecosystems, natural processes and earth itself are deserving of respect. To deep ecologists, a rational worldview is one in which there is spiritual harmony with the natural environment.

One must recognize that these aforementioned environmental ethics are different and espouse multifarious approaches towards the treatment of nature; it will not be fair to ignore the nuances in their philosophical inclinations. However, through the common lenses of weak anthropocentrism, environment ethicists will be able to see a thread of camaraderie running through paradigms that appear dissimilar. Through this, it is hoped that there will be greater empathy between ethicists from various fractions.

In this paper, I began with an explanation of the flaws associated with non- and strong anthropocentrism. I then moved on to explain how weak anthropocentrism differs from these two strong paradigms and offers a moderate ethical alternative. The discourse progresses to a focus on how different philosophies may, in one way or another, be weakly anthropocentric.

Even as I write this paper, the British Broadcasting Channel (BBC) reports the death of the last Javan rhino in Vietnam. The degradation of natural systems and exploitation of its creatures continue. It is critical for environmental ethicists to work together in a concerted fashion to protect the natural environment.

Nobutsugu, an ethicist supporting Norton’s weak anthropocentrism, explains the problems of ideological conflicts between different ethical frameworks:
“Norton sees ideological polarization in the American conservation movement since the age of Gifford Pinchot and John Muir. He thinks that preexperiential commitments of environmentalists to one’s own ideology (e.g. anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism) profoundly influence their rhetoric in environmental debates and that “outbursts of ideologically motivated rhetorics are unlikely to result in improved environmental policies” (Norton, 2005).”
While there may be flaws associated with weak anthropocentrism – such as what constitutes a rational worldview – it remains an adequate ethics that may serve as a meeting point between strong anthropocentrists and non-anthropocentrists. It is not the most ideal, but it is sufficient.

Weak anthropocentrism cannot cater to the beliefs of everyone. Because of the inherent biological differences in people and disparities in their external socio-cultural-political-geographical upbringing (which shaped their beliefs), it is difficult – perhaps, even impossible – to develop an ethics that everyone could agree with. There will be deep ecologists who seek spiritual harmony with nature and strong anthropocentrists interested only in viewing nature through economic costs-benefits calculus.

Weak anthropocentrism, while not the most ideal ethics that appeal to everyone, is an adequate basis for robust environmental ethics.The weakly anthropocentric view avoids the difficulties of justifying an environmental ethics from either end of the spectrum. It does not lapse into the questionable attribution of intrinsic value to non-human organisms, biospheres and ecologies. It avoids the short-sightedness of strong anthropocentrism, which judges mainly on felt preferences.

As Nuyen (2011, p.215) writes in An anthropocentric ethics towards animals and nature, most people, if not all, agrees that it is wrong to treat animals and nature without respect, to inflict needless destruction. The ecological world desperately needs the damaging human population to adopt an ethic that will slow or reverse environmental degradation. It is important to expand our moral horizons through debates on what constitutes an ideal environmental ethics. But, we must not miss the forest for the trees. It is pressing to focus on protecting what we now have, to focus on protecting our natural environment. In this regard, weak anthropocentrism’s pragmatism serves well. Certain aspects of nature, once destroyed, may not be reversible. Vietnam’s last Javan rhino is a startling example.

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