Open your mind: think, reason, question, engage

It’s World Philosophy Day today. An official UNESCO day since 2002, World Philosophy Day is celebrated annually on the third Thursday of November. The theme for 2012 is ‘Future Generations’.

The objective of the day is “to encourage the peoples of the world to share their philosophical heritage and to open their minds to new ideas, as well as to inspire a public debate between intellectuals and civil society on the challenges confronting our society.” On the day, governments, educational institutions and organisations of all kinds are encouraged to organise workshops, dialogues, debates, and other events to promote intellectual debate, reasoning and informed thinking.

Getting your brain in a knot on World Philosophy Day.
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In terms of this year’s theme, the focus is specifically on promoting philosophical thought among young people, to nurture their taste for the the joys and rigour of critical thought. The great philosophers challenge us to question accepted truths; to not merely accept opinions as the truth; to test hypotheses; to reach our own conclusions. Surely developing this mode of thinking among the next generation is the wisest means of ensuring the future well-being of the world and its people. Abraham Lincoln captured it well when he said: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

So, today is the day to don your thinking cap, and tackle the big subjects – or, as Douglas Adams would say, “Life, the Universe and Everything”.  Philosophy is not about passively sitting around thinking – it’s about actively engaging with those around you. Take a stand, don’t shy away from controversy. Get the big debates going.

Just remember that philosophical debate is not a competition – differences of opinion is a good thing. To quote Thomas Jefferson: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

Harry Day and the great fluoride debate

Today we celebrate the birthday of one Harry Gilbert Day.

Harry Day, a nutritional biochemist, helped develop the fluoride additive used in toothpaste to combat tooth decay. The research by Day and his colleagues at Indiana University in the US was funded by Proctor and Gamble (P&G). Stannous fluoride was approved as a tooth paste additive by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1955, and introduced to the public for the first time in a commercial toothpaste by P&G in 1956.

Since its first introduction, fluoride in toothpaste has been the subject of heated debate. The pro-fluoride lobby holds that fluoride is important to prevent tooth decay and, while it can be acutely toxic if swallowed in large amounts, even ‘full strength/adult’ brands of toothpaste contain low enough levels of fluoride to not pose any health risks. Anti-fluoride campaigners, on the other hand, point to a range of scary issues related to the additive. Dementia in humans, due to exposure to fluoride, is said to double in the next two decades, and triple in three. Excess fluoride is also claimed to cause teeth to discolour and crumble, to have detrimental effects on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and according to some studies, even lead to bone cancer.

Fluoridation of toothpaste – definitely not a black and white issue.
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One of the main arguments against fluoride as a toothpaste additive is that it is already included as an additive in much of the world’s drinking water and in mineral and vitamin supplements, and that the combined levels we are exposed to exceed what is safe.

As a result of the debate, more and more non-fluoride toothpastes are being introduced to the market, allowing both sides of the argument access to their preferred option.

As Shakespeare might have said if he was around today: “To fluoridate or not to fluoridate, that is the question.” What is your view on the subject?