I am one of the many migrane sufferers in our world

And I just had one. My first in several months. I'm in the after-blah right now, and it feel like someone took all the blood out of my veins and replaced it with salt the consistency of molasses.


This is not a post

No post today, too busy keeping an eye on the world.


A trick of the soul

So, one of the things Derren Brown talks about in Tricks of the Mind, only getting slightly off topic, is the question of whether one can trust the biblical accounts of Jesus. This strikes me as a very interesting problem in western religion - in so far as western religion seems so very based in two things: faith, and text. One has one's text commanding one to have faith in a savior/God, but at what point can one divide having faith in that God from having faith in those who transmitted that text to you.
The Catholic church seems to have circumvented this struggle, to the best of my understanding, by putting a lot of faith in the transmitters and current authority.
But what should a Protestant do - after all, the Bible tells one to trust in Christ, not in thousands of years of human transmission and translation, and no matter how we may investigate and hope for certainty within that process, it is a human process, unless one resorts to a theory of supernatural intervention in transmission and translation, which has its own problems. This becomes especially problematic on issues which regard one limited section of the larger text which may have been changed or misinterpreted only in a small way, but which leads to a far different conclusion.

What should one do, I wonder. Let us also remember that the point of this excercize is to see, not if one can grow more and more certain of conclusions or of some historical chain of information, but to see if one can, even theoretically, remove a faith which is imbued in a historical person or God which may be supernatural from a faith in historical texts which may not be.


A Very Interesting Book

So now I'm reading Derren Brown's book "Tricks of the Mind" I find it thoroughly enjoyable, very truthful, if not entirely true, and enjoyably charactered. Just as a warning, some who do not find irony as attractive as I do may be put off.


Language games and teaching

Come to think of it, could good or proper teaching be defined as a language game in which both parties win?

We'd have to define win, of course, but that's another language game in and of itself. :)

Carrying on the good work

This past week gives me a vague feeling of success. I introduced someone to Wittgenstein, and he took to it like a fish to water.

In the language games of teaching, sometimes I win.

Cartesian mind-body problem: A possible solution

So, either no one is interested in the Cartesian mind-body puzzle, or no one is interested in my blog... either way, I shall not be flagged. Though, I must say, I was looking forward to your posts, to see if one of you could come up with an interesting solution. I am content, however, to be the only one leaving a record for future philosopher's amusement.

My current solution of the Cartesian mind-body problem is somewhat as follows:

I think Descartes, in posing this problem, actually confuses imagining a thing with imagining the effects of a thing. If we pose the problem differently, "I can imagine the effects of my mind existent without my body..." well, of course I can, but I can imagine the effects of anything without that thing - the morning star's effects (light in our atmosphere, even a gravitational pull near Venus) can be imagined without the existence of the morning star, a podium's effects can be imagined without a podium. When we imagine ourselves looking at ourselves in the mirror and nothing being there, we are not imagining consciousness, we are imagining vision, which is one of the effects of consciousness. Even the feeling of consciousness is not consciousness itself (to say it is would, perhaps, be the position of a staunch and limited materialist, but I think I can feel safe from Descartes on that one) but an effect of consciousness.

Of course, this leads us only deeper into difficulty - how do we know the effects of a thing from the thing? But it also leads us closer to a solution - for it seems to ever answer the question "what is real?" we must, of course, answer that very question - what are effects, and how may we divide them from a thing. This, incidentally, is one of the great difficulties of linguistics, no?

What think you?


Writing Stories

I'm thinking about writing more short stories, as practice for my writing in general, and especially for my ability to achieve cogent plots. For inspiration, I'm turning to something my friend Abigail did recently, which is write short stories based on images. This week, my image is Dali's Pink Knot and Shell on the Seashore.

So far, what I'm thinking is an interaction between the modern world and ancient mysticism (a theme in keeping with Dali, I think).

So far, I'm thinking about a young man, fresh out of Harvard, who joined the peace corps for lack of other attractive options, and is sent on a cultural mission to Africa, to be a translator and general help to a tribe there. He discovers they have an odd tradition of burying sticks in the beach sand and then giving them mystical names. He, of course, takes this from a post-christian western perspective, and silently mocks it, especially their idea that some of them have that certain sticks go straight to the center of the earth, until, during a tryst with a woman, she ties her hair-ribbon around one of the sticks to go swimming, and he feels the stick plunge right to the center of the earth metaphorically.

That's pretty much it. Oh, and he's friends with a translator from the tribe who is old, who he calls Bwana for no apparent reason, and who smokes a pipe.

Where shall I go from here...

Metaphors. Lots of metaphors.

Ultimately, I think I want to achieve a feeling of two cultures clashing and neither having the upper hand (unlike so much other "tribalism" literature), but still effecting the destruction of a human's value system.

The Cartesian Mind-Body problem

On the topic of the embodied mind, I'm also watching Yale's open course on Death, with Professor Shelly Kagan. In lectures 5 and 6, Professor Kagan brings up a very interesting philosophical puzzle first posed by Descartes. It is, in brief, as follows:

"Because I can imagine my mind as completely distinct and operational without my body, the mind and body must be two separate things."

Among us weirdo philosophers, this is the sort of stuff that keeps us up at night. I can see how it would be a somewhat compelling argument, after all, it does seem terribly hard to imagine music without sound waves. For that matter, to take a hint from Yeats, it seems rather difficult to imagine a dance without a dancer, or a dancer without a dance. That in itself is a whole separate philosophical debate, but I hope you can see the essential point of Descartes' argument - that in some way, our imagination seems limited by laws of identity and non-contradiction, that is, if a thing is itself, we can not even imagine it to be existent in part but not in whole.

Kagan goes on to list other illustrations:

Can we imagine a smile without a body (and yes, teeth do count)
Can we imagine a podium without a podium?
Can we imagine anything without that anything itself?

So, if we can imagine the mind without the body, if we can imagine being wholly conscious beings without a body (and I, at least, dream fairly often that I am without a body) then must the mind and body be separate things?

I think I've come up with a solution, but I want to hear anyone's comments first, because I'm interested to see if anyone comes up with a solution, and, hey, suspense is fun, right?


Making a Scientific Movie

So, I've been thinking about how un-scientific movies tend to be. From the documentaries purporting to be scientific, but only providing simplistic sound bites, to the dramatic movies which flagrantly violate science and academia for all too often pitiful dramatic purposes. So I've been thinking about how I could make a movie about science. Perhaps even worse yet, film tends to move towards supernaturalism (probably because it looks cool) and, like the Poltergeist, lead us to believe that the best thing to do is trust a short southern woman with big glasses.

First off, the myth of the sound bite. I don't think they are as bad as people say they are. Sound bites done right can really do a good job of explaining complex ideas - or they can do a crappy job. That should be no surprise, as it shouldn't be a surprise that there tend to be more bad sound bites than good ones. Pick any media/form of information you like and my money is on finding more crap than really good stuff. Besides that, in film, you have the visual element, which, when used properly, can contribute tremendous amounts of information quickly, and a very comprehensible way.

So I'm thinking about how I could make it interesting... hmmm... Because science, above all else, takes TIME.

Most exciting opening, continued

To continue my thoughts on Philosophy in the Flesh:

Yesterday, I addressed my interest in the idea that abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Today, this holds my interest like the world holds a man - he may move to one side or the other, he may see many other things, but he is still within the world. I turn around, and there again is the idea, haunting me like the ghost of Socrates, unreal phantom of a potentially fictional philosopher.

I've always suspected that abstract ideas are largely metaphorical, or at least have a largely metaphorical structure. The way we operate within them seems to make them even more metaphorical. When I speak of an abstract concept, such as "freedom", that word means something to you - but what does it mean? It is more than a metaphor, but a metaphor for what? With what image? Perhaps that is the strong use of abstract concepts- they contain no inherent image, but still inspire an imigaic structure, or at least alight the imagination.
When I say, or better yet, when William Wallace says "Freedom" do we think of Wallace's struggle for freedom, or do we think of our own freedom? Could it be that abstract concepts are ultimately a means of inspiring tight sympathies, by allowing us to place whatever specific image we want into someone else's word. When Wallace (or Bush, for that matter) call us to fight for freedom, it isn't their freedom, we would be unlikely to fight for it if it were, it is our freedom, it must be felt, be imagined, as our freedom.

This leads me to thoughts on literature - and how abstract concepts work in literature. Literature, especially modern film literature, presents us with specific situations which demand our symapthy with the protagonists, through specific situations which limit their abstract rights or desires (freedom, as in Braveheart or Shawshank Redeption, Justice, in Philidelphia, Amistad, or The Green Mile, friendship and family, as in Shaun of the Dead or, in an odd way, Unforgiven.) but these abstract rights are not abstracted and made to apply to us, they are rather specified to those others. This could lead, if I put more time into it, I think, to a thought about the purpose of literature which would be a reversal of Aristotle's catharsis idea.

Aristotle thought that the ultimate purpose of tragedy is to purge us of pity and fear, so that we may fight. I think that the purpose of literature, tragedy or comedy, could be to put us into other's shoes, so that we can imagine what they go through, and will be more likely either to fight for them or not to fight against them. The purpose of literature therefore would not be to expel from us pity and fear, but to impregnate us with symapthy.

That, at least, is the beginning of some philosophical ponderings.

What think you?


The most exciting book opening I've read in a while.

Okay, so it may be a revelation of my complete philosophy geekyness, but I just finished reading the first chapter of Philosophy in the Flesh George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's voluminous work of cognitive science/philosophy, and I found the opening to be one of the most interesting and enrapturing things I've read in a long time. I will now take the liberty of quoting this briefly, because it's just so interesting. What follows is the text of the opening.

"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought it mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.
These are three major findings of cognitive science. More than two millennia of a priori philosophical speculation about the aspects of reason are over. Because of these discoveries, philosophy can never be the same again."

Holy heck, what an opening! It's like taking a sledgehammer to philosophy of mind. Blunt, brief, oh so effective. What interests me most is the last major finding - the first two seem well proven. That the mind is inherently embodied is supported well by the work of Kristoff Kotch, Steven Pinker, and especially Vilayanur S. "Rama" Ramachandran, whose work on this issue I find most fascinating and persuasive. These three also give good credence, and they are not the only ones, only the ones I am most aware of, to the idea that thought is mostly unconcious. One of my favorite examples from Ramachandran is the story of the young man who had specific brain damage which did not allow him to recognize his mother as his mother - he knew she looked like his mother, but could not believe she was his mother. (if you're interested, and before you question the findings, please read more here.) Such a aspect of brain damage leads me to strongly believe both the first two points, because it shows that 1. The brain is embodied, other wise such specific brain damage would not have such specific effect, and 2. Such effect could not be effected without huge processing taking place on an entirely unconcious level.

But the third one, oh, there's a field I could play in for a while. The difficulty, it seems to me, is that the concept of "abstract concept" is itself an abstract concept, and much work must be done before we can answer the question "what is an abstract concept" specifically, non-metaphorically, and not a priori. it's like a metaphor of a metaphor of a metaphor. I'm very, very interested to see what Lakoff and Johnson do later, and I really want to see if they address this. Woo-hoo!


Mind, Language, and Society: Weekend Book review

Doing a lot this week, so a summary, aphoristic book review:

John Searle: Mind, Language, and Society

An attempt to escape the material/ideal dichotomy by positing intentionality as the sign of the mind (a weak hypothesis, weakly supported by the essentially open role of the word "intentionality") then showing that intentionality can be measured physically through words.

The above is a vast oversimplification.

The book is still worth reading for anyone interested in cognitive science and language, even if it doesn't dedicate itself to science and empiricism like a Steven Pinker book. It's much more in the "cognitive philosophy" than "cognitive science" section of my mental shelf. If you're not so interested in language and mind, I'd recommend Pinker first, even though he's so much longer, he, ultimately, isn't a philosopher, who, as Shelley Kagan once said in his Open Yale class on death is "someone who doesn't know much"or some such thing.


Allegory: Thoughts I've had for a while.

Some time ago, I was talking to a friend about Quentin Tarentino’s movie “Kill Bill, volume 2” Remember the poignant scene in which Bill discusses with Kiddo and BB the nature of death, and BB’s fish? For those who have not watched the movie, BB has a fish, who, at one point, she scooped out of its bowl, and watched it flapping on the floor. Then she stomped on it. When asked what this resulted in, BB replies, “He stopped flapping.” My friend’s question was “What does this mean? Is it showing that she’s already a messed up kid?” I told him no, and I will tell you why.

Tarentino’s work, as best as I can tell, is not an allegory. The figures and actions in its stories have nothing to do with concepts or figures that one would easily recognize coming from an outside system of thought. However, to think of BB’s action as having such a narrow range of interpretation, essentially, to use it alone as the proof for or against whether BB is psychologically damaged by her relationship with Bill, is not only short-sighted, it is asking something of the movie it was never meant to do.

Allegory has been popular in many social groups, and is, essentially, an expanded method of parable. A parable is basically an expanded metaphor. When we create a metaphor, we say “this thing is like this thing in this way.” When we create a parable we say “this thing is like this thing in this story” essentially, a way of further focusing the metaphor’s usage, so that a law is thought of as a rock not in that it melts in a volcano, but in that it’s one of the most solid things we encounter from day to day. An allegory takes the parable to another level, by mixing a number of metaphors, to place a larger metaphoric structure upon the work as a whole.

The use of Allegory has been especially popular within the Christian church. Jesus used many parables, and it only makes sense that the descendants of his thought would make use of allegory. Dante’s Divine Comedy is, essentially, twisted allegory, as Dante’s pilgrim is brought through various punishments and rewards which reveal the nature of the crimes of the deceased. These deceased function as a metaphor for a certain type of people. In the sixteenth century, one of the most popular English Christians, Edmund Spenser, wrote part of a massively extended allegory of the Christian life called “The Fairie Queene” And today, perhaps one of the most well-known of Christian allegories is C.S. Lewis’ tremendously popular Chronicles of Narnia series.

When an allegory operates, it creates a language. One who has read the Chronicles of Narnia might relate Aslan, which would be a sound indecipherable to the uninitiated, to any lion they saw thereafter. In relating two unrelated things, allegory creates language, in the same way as the English language produces the meaning “meaning” whatever it may mean out of an essentially chaotic set of symbols on a page, or vibrations the air molecules.

Allegory says “this means this” and “that means that” “Aslan means Christ” “Bleeding tree means suicide” “Beatrice means heaven” and “Red Crosse Knight means Christian, patriot, Englishman, chivalrous lover, among other things” please excuse the rather erudite in-joke.

Quite possibly through the Christian usage, allegory as the only form of storytelling has infiltrated our entire educational system. Be it Huckleberry Finn or Shakespeare, the first question asked of the students is “What does it mean?” To improperly ask this question is to misunderstand the very heart and soul of storytelling its self. Storytelling is an experience, even when it is allegory. Even as allegory, storytelling provides an experience, an experience of meaning, possibly even emotional meaning beyond rational meaning, if it is a very well-told allegory. Yet, not all meaning can be located in words, and the moment we open our mouths to identify them meaning, we demean the meaning, at least to some extent. At this point, a story in which the meaning is found in the experience, and not in the interpretation, is destroyed.

This is the primary difference between normal storytelling and allegory. Normal storytelling provides experience, and allows the reader to interpret or leave uninterpreted. Allegory forces an interpretation upon the reader, and gives them an easily explainable meaning, and leaves it at that. Storytelling is no issue so simple. It provides an experience. Whether this experience is believable or not depends upon the skill of the artist. Whether this story should be believable or not depends upon the skill and discernment of the audience. However, it will do no good to combat improper storytelling with allegory. To say that Tolkien’s fantastic work of myth and magic was, in fact, allegory, is not to properly represent Tolkien. To say it is completely true is not to properly represent Tolkein. To say you are Gandalf, and can shoot fireworks with the end of your stick, is to misrepresent Tolkein, yourself, and very possibly invite a Darwin Award.

Such an over interpretation may be blamed, logically, though perhaps not completely factually, upon the over usage of allegory. My train of logic is this: Allegory teaches that the elements of a story are, in fact, present in the rhyme and reason of the everyday world. It ignores the fact that the everyday world rarely has a rhyme or reason it can explain. The ancient allegories, blind cupid and blind justice, both serve to illustrate this fact. When the person raised on a purely allegorical understanding, rather than an experiential understanding of literature encounters a work of fiction which is not allegory, that person attempts to treat that literature as allegory. This leads to the over interpretation. If nothing is found that can be related back to life in an allegorical sense, say, Gandalf’s magic having no relation to life as we know it either in a physical or a intellectual way, we immediately think that it must be true in some way. This is illustrated by the violent reaction by some parties against Harry Potter, and the violent reaction in some cases for magic, which feeds the former reaction.

In the end, neither Tolkien nor Rowling have, to the best of my knowledge, meant that magic is accessible to the normal person today, at least in the extent of turning a bully into a pig or making friends with a dragon. However, because the children are constantly pestered with the question “what does it mean?” rather than simply being allowed to grow in experience through imaginative literature, they attempt to create a meaning that is not there, and so do we.

This is not to say that eliminating the allegoric will in some way make a better world. I think, personally, that the allegory is a dumb way of writing literature. In many cases, it destroys the brevity and clarity of the lesson, and destroys the beauty and veracity of the story its self. Even a storyteller like C S Lewis can not escape this. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were both criticized for their flat writing (albeit, unfairly) and they were, in may ways, writing allegorical works, especially in Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Yet, all the same, the interpretation of literature is necessary, as is the interpretation of experience. Even though allegory still has the reprehensible fault of pointing directly to its own interpretation. This does not teach proper interpretation, it weakens the powers of one to interpret on their own, using the faculties of previous experience. Interpretation, however, is still necessary, and even vital, and must not be sacrificed for experience. That, however, is for another essay. For now, think, and let think.


An Aphorism

As I've perhaps mentioned before, I like aphorisms. Here's one:

A true gentleman is not serious about being a gentleman.

It holds true in all the aspects of gentlemanlyness I can think of, except the more serious ones, such as defense of a woman, and even then, it should be mostly carried out with a modicum of humor and self-depreciation.

Though I'm not sure it should even be classified as gentlemanly to defend a woman - that is beyond gentlemanly, it is simply right, and thus, one may be vicious about it.

Been thinking about: Postjustified emotions

There is a statement in modern literature has been running through my mind again. It runs through my mind often. It is this:

"We assign a moment to decision, to dignify the process as a timely result of rational and concious thought. But decisions are made of kneaded feelings; they are more ofte a lump than a sum." - Hannibal by Thomas Harris (http://books.google.com/books?id=HA2UyrPlnXwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Hannibal+Thomas+Harris&sig=ACfU3U0jHJwHCwvGViuoMFzVweshuM0k9g#PPA162,M1)

Fiction usually gives reasons for its characters actions. Most ficiton that does not do so, in one way or another, is disregarded or never treated with attempts to explain actions. Every now and again, there is a work that we can not avoid so easily, such as Hamlet. It is an enduring point of debate for critics, as it was for those surrounding Hamlet in the play, why the prince is so melancholy, and so murderous. The reasons he gives seem weak - the death of his father, the not-really-adultery of his mother, which, when it comes right down to it, is more fickleness than adultery, the abandonment of Ophelia, who he must understand he forced away. But perhaps, as Harris suggests, decisions are kneaded feelings - perhaps the reasons for Hamelt's actions are his feelings, not his reasons, and it is a divide between feeling and force, not reason and force, which troubles him so deeply.

Perhaps this is true of all of us - our reasons are justifiers of our actions, and of our feelings, which interact much more directly with the material world, and lie much more deeply in our conciousness, prickly motes behind the eye of the mind. If this is true, one could explain all of literature as a post-justification of this sort: one could say that all of fiction, which is so primarily concerned with the changes wrought in people, seeks those changes not in the liquidity of their characters, but in the forces which surround them, and their reasonable responses to these forces, rather than dealing with the idea that we may not be as rational as we wish, and that, when I am sad, I think of reasons to be sad, not that I am sad because I have reason to be.

What think you?


Nothing today

Well, today, I got nothing. I've had thoughts, but they're all scattered and not fully developed yet. And so, a poem. From Chesterton:

Old King Cole
Was a merry old soul
And a merry old soul was he
He called for his pipe
and he called for his bowl
and he called for his fiddlers three

after Lord Tennyson

Cole, that unwearied prince of Colchester,
Growing more gay with age and with long days
Deeper in laughter and desire of life
As that Virginian climber on our walls
Flames scarlet with the fading of the year;
Called for his wassail and that other weed
Virginian also, from the western woods
Where English Raleigh checked the boast of Spain,
And lighting joy with joy, and piling up
Pleasure as crown for pleasure, bade me bring
Those three, the minstrels whose emblazoned coats
Shone with the oyster-shells of Colchester;
And these three played, and playing grew more fain
Of mirth and music; till the heathen came
And the King slept beside the northern sea.

after W.B. Yeats

Of an old King in a story
From the grey sea-folk I have heard
Whose heart was no more broken
Than the wings of a bird.

As soon as the moon was silver
And the thin stars began,
He took his pipe and his tankard,
Like an old peasant man.

And three tall shadows were with him
And came at his command;
And played before him for ever
The fiddles of fairyland.

And he died in the young summer
Of the world's desire;
Before our hearts were broken
Like sticks in a fire.

after Walt Whitman

Me clairvoyant,
Me conscious of you, old camarado,
Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,
Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;
The crown cannot hide you from me,
Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,
I perceive that you drink.
(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)
I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting
(I do not object to your spitting),
You prophetic of American largeness,
You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;
I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,
I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,
Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;
They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;
I myself am a complete orchestra.
So long.

It's an interesting poem to me because it daubles in so many things, and proves, to me, Chesterton's initimable standing - he was able to imitate, quite passing well, three "great" poets of the English language, and to do so with more than a little teasing, because in doing so he seems to have offered strong evidence that sometimes the old, folksy things should stand so much longer, and can encompass so much more than the new, shiny pets of the academy.


The Tyrants are ahead of us...

Come to think of it, anyone willing to pay me for that research would probably be a tyrant looking for a better way to take over the world... tyrants (at least the smart ones) are always willing to pay for research when it means better ways of enforcing their thoughts among the populace...

Something odd it would be hard to prove

I work in distance education, and part of that work is watching people watch videos - and I've begun to suspect something I suppose is rather odd. People are often more less bored watching videos of someone than watching that person themselves. Even with long presentations, I've watched hundreds of students in many, many classes (I was bored) and I've watched dozens of students watching videos of the professors - and it seems that the majority are more interested in the videos.

To prove this, of course, I would need a good neurology lab... but I still wonder why...

Is it just that a screen is shiny?
Perhaps that cutting makes thing more interesting - that we pay more attention when we change perspectives more often? That could be rather interesting to test...
Perhaps we're just lazy, and the camera "shows" us what to focus on.
Perhaps it's just the head is bigger.

Anyone want to pay me to test all this? It could have a huge impact on education in general, and on the way movies are cut... and it'd be really, really interesting.


Against Stupidity: A Rant

This is a rant. My friends have heard me rant about it before. It springs from a conversation I had with some of my best friends on Saturday. It is a rant. If you are not prepared to be spewed all over with the fierce, long-pent fire-breathing hamster that is my anger, read the following sentence, then close this blog, opening it again only whenever you: a. feel like having something to be mad about, or b. I've posted something new, and this fire hose of scorn is buried forever deep in the internet's backlog, along with (insert celebritney of choice) nudity and that Chihuahua movie (yes, it's so bad, it's been forgotten a month ahead of release).

This is the sentence you should read: Why must entertainment capitalize on stupid people?

I don't know why I apologize for my vehemence, P.Z. Meyers doesn't... ;)

Anyway, I find myself wondering why so much entertainment has to capitalize on stupidity. It's not new. It's not even old. It's ancient. If you don't think it's ancient, go read Aristophanes, then get back to me. His work is essentially all satire aimed at various stupid people dressed up as heroes, who make stupid mistakes, and escape by the skin of their teeth, and he's probably the last one to do so honorably. If my memory serves, Aristotle praised him for it in Poetics. Not that I particularly trust him on things dramatic.
Right, so that's the first point. I hear way, way, way too many people treat Napoleon Dynamite (the quintessential stupid people are funny movie of my generation). Most of the rest of this rant, however, is aimed at things which could have been better. Most namely, Arrested Development. Now Arrested Development is a very good show, much better than most out there, and well worth watching. That said, it is largely about stupid people. As such, to list a few shows I think better: Scrubs, House, and Doctor Who. Now, Arrested Development has a tremendous lot going for it. First off, it has incredible acting, in some cases, possibly even better than any of the shows listed above. Jason Bateman does a very impressive job as Michael, though, if you asks me, he looks frighteningly like Nathan Fillion. Michael Cera does his usual work of making the whole show better just by his existence, Jeffrey Tambor is impressive as always, David Cross is excellent playing his stock character, and the occasional Liza Manelli appearance is absolutely icing on the cake. That said, note that all these characters (with the exception of Liza) are more or less stock actors, who play one roll well. Bateman is always a little confused, but generally sensible, Cera is a confuddled, nervous teen, Tambor is a basically foolish man who does understand more than he seems to, and Cross is a entirely un-self-aware person who thinks he understands the world. This is where the show starts to fail - because the writers write to these stocks.
House may seem like a stock character, but there are many flavors to his individualism. Hugh Laurie, one of the great actors of the time, is sad, happy, gleeful, mean, depressive, and determined by turns, and the supporting cast mostly backs him up on it (especially Robert Sean Leonard). For all failings, one of the amazing things about Scrubs is that almost all the characters manage to be more than one thing - sad, understanding, in control, out of control, mean, vindictive, funny, AND stupid, and even play in the corridors between these extremes. JD, Dr. Cox, Carla, Turk, Eliot, La Verne, and the Janitor, just to name the majors, all have specific instances in which they are each of these things.
Why do I hate stupid one-dimensional writing so much? It's an escape, a silly, ridiculous escape for writers who don't know enough, or can't think enough to make characters multi-faceted and believable. That, and I'm tired of stupid people. I get enough of them elsewhere, I don't need them on my TV, and I learn a lot more from smart people, even when they do stupid things, because to learn from one's stupid mistakes is almost the definition of a smart person. To give another proof, the writers show that they aren't that knowledgeable or hardworking in episode one when they call cartography "the mapping of undiscovered places" (or something more stupid) then have their "smart" character make a joke about everything already being discovered - which, if you look at the swamps in Africa (just as one example), is certainly not true, and, besides that, cartography is just the craft of map-making, not necessarily of undiscovered places. They didn't even get a basic definition right. That said, I still think it's a great show, with some genuinely witty, smart moments. I just wish it didn't have to be stupid so often to get there.
As a side-note, I wonder how much smarter our kids would get if they were watching smarter TV... hmmm... and NO, I'm not comparing Arrested Development to the Discovery Chanel. I'm comparing it to Scrubs or House. I don't just think smart TV is documentaries. Some documentaries are very dumb TV.


Movie Review: Innerspace: The Surprising Eighties

I don’t even know why I picked this movie up. I saw it on some list, threw it on my library request list, and forgot about it. Weeks later, it showed up at my library, like a discarded puppy, vaguely endearing, but simultaneously troubling. So, I picked it up, and hoped it wouldn’t pee all over my carpet, secure in the knowledge that, were it bad, I could give it back, and were it terrible, I could drive nails through its corny, anti-intellectual, ill-researched aluminum self, trying to forget that movies just as corny, anti-intellectual, and ill-researched are stamped out by the millions for less than it costs to produce nails.

In this case, I was pleasantly surprised. Not that there wasn’t the occasional yellow puddle on the carpet. (I don’t know why I’m still running with this analogy… I get the feeling no one’s chasing me, except to tell me to put it down before it absorbs me in a puddle of not-so-goodishness.) Okay, plotline, because you probably haven’t seen it. Dennis Quaid is a hotshot test pilot, depressed because he’s not graduated Top Gun, or some such thing. He’s working on a project to be shrunk down in a vaguely cell-size inner-body submersible, to be injected into a bunny, because, “miniaturization is the future”… or something like that. Anyway, because of industrial espionage, Quaid is not stuck into the bunny, instead, he’s stuck into Martin Short. Chaos ensues, etc… Along the way, Quaid can see what Martin can see by plugging into Martin’s ocular nerve… which anyone who has studied vision will laugh hysterically at… and Quaid at one point cuts a hole in Martin’s artery about half an inch from the heart, causing no apparent problems for Martin.

If we suspend our disbelief like a 16-ton weight hanging from a spider web, the movie proves, despite all this, to be surprisingly entertaining. There are more than a few good lines, and a host of ironic situations which lead to more than common amusement. On the philosophical side, one could probably draw all sorts of Top-Gun esque military-is-repressed-gay parable parallels (it’s a movie about one guy being in another, how hard can it be?) but I won’t go there.


Derren Brown

Another thing I'd love to see Derren Brown do - he did a series called "Derren Brown: The so-called messiah" in which he went around America winning accolades from various religious personages for his "religious" powers. I'd love to see him enter academies, schools, academic journals, etc... and see if they can pick him out.

I'm just wondering how much we've checked to make sure things are really as kosher as they are supposed to be with peer-review.

Interesting Thinkers: Derren Brown

I would love to write a Doctoral Thesis on Derren Brown. He fascinates me from all levels.

Who is Derren Brown, you say? Derren Brown is an enigma wrapped in the horror of human suggestibility, but with the coat of a magician. One feels that all will be alright when it ends, though the means, one is not sure. Now for specifics: Derren is blonde... or did you want to know that? He has done several BBC shows, as well as shows in front of live audiences, and what he does is to use the power of suggestion, subtle or strong, to get people to do things they would never imagine they'd do. That, or use his rather impressive intellect to get them to admit things they'd never admit. So much interesting stuff. Best of all, he tells you how he does it. I know, I know, the magician never reveals his tricks. Bollocks. The greatest magicians can, and one never ceases to wonder. Puny magicians, like puny thinkers, don't reveal their tricks, because anyone can do them.

Derren Brown fascinates because:

His abilities to influence by subtle suggestion raises all sorts of interesting questions in the realms of literature and philosophy.
His work could lead to such interesting cognitive science research.

There are clips of him on YouTube.


Philosophical Movies

I posted this today on a philosophy discussion board asking to list four philosophical movies:

"1. A.I.

Seriously, this film is one of the most interesting philosophical movies - and talks about all the big questions - what is real? How would we know? How would we communicate it? It's Pinocchio meets Blade Runner, set up by Stanley Kubrick and filmed by Steven Spielberg. Some will say he ruined it with his Hollywood ending, but I completely disagree. The ending is as much of a question as the ending of Blade Runner.

2. Paranoia Agent

An Anime T.V. Series directed by the same director as Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, Satoshi Kon. I think Paranoia Agent is by far his best work, covering thoughts about identity, the relationship of popular culture to thought, morality, and, best of all, the moral status of nostalgia. Unlike so many other philosophical movies (A.I., Blade Runner, etc...) Kon touches on the big questions, but deals more with specific questions - like why we want to be nostalgic, and how it affects us.

3. One Hour Photo

Morality. Identity. Character. And Photographs.

4. Lawrence of Arabia

Morality. Platonic ideals. Mortality. Western and Eastern cultures clashing. War, killing, and the triumph of will. What more could you ask for?

So many great movies have been posted, but those are four favorites for me. I think one thread that connects them is the way philosophy is not just questioned, it is lived, which is so necessary to good film...

Also, I think films do not need to have philosophical lines to be philosophical films - sometimes, I think, philosophically, Neo dodging bullets may be the most philosophical statement of the Matrix - the ultimately very Platonic belief that the rules can be broken, the cave has an escape."

I wanted to share it with you few because I really like the last point - perhaps the most Platonic part of Platonism is to believe the rules will be broken for you... but isn't that what so many of us hope for?

More to follow in Platonism... there's one topic I'm not going circle warily before assaulting...


Theory Formation and Paradigm Shift

A friend recently asked me about the elements of what a theory is and how it can be more certain. I've been thinking about it, and I think one of the things is that one of the ways it could be more certain is to be less susceptible to paradigm shifts - AKA, that it won't change everything if we change just a couple things around. Or is a paradigm shift more than that? Can we measure what is susceptible to such a shift? It could certainly be helpful if we could...


Quoting Chesterton: Nothing Better

Some days, I feel there's nothing better to do than quote G.K. Chesterton.

"In fact, the mere abstract rationality of this problem is very wrongly discussed. For instance, it is always considered ludicrous and a signal for a burst of laughter if the spiritualists say that a seance has been spoiled by the presence of a skeptic, or that an attitude of faith is necessary to encourage the psychic communications. But there is nothing at all unreasonable or unlikely about the idea that doubt might discourage and faith encourage spiritual communications, if there are any. The suggestion does not make spiritualism in abstract logic any more improbable. All that it does make it is more difficult.

There is nothing foolish or fantastic about the supposition that a dispassionate person acts as a deterrent to passionate truths. Only it happens to make it much harder for any dispassionate person to find out what is true. There are a thousand practical parallels. An impartial psychologist studying the problem of human nature could, no doubt, learn a great deal from a man and woman making love to each other in his presence. None the less, it is unfortunately the fact that no man and woman would make love to each other in the presence of an impartial psychologist. Students of physiology and surgery might learn something from a man suddenly stabbing another man on a platform in a lecture-theater. But no man would stab another man on a platform in a lecture-theater. A schoolmaster would learn much if the boys would be boys in his presence; but they never are boys in his presence. An educationalist studying infancy might make important discoveries if he could hear the things said by a baby when absolutely alone and at his ease with his mother. But it is quite obvious that the mere entrance of a great ugly educationalist (they are an ugly lot) would set the child screaming with terror."

Interesting stuff, at least to me.


A Metaphor for Writing

There have been plenty of metaphors in the history of the world for poetic speech. There are enough for Harold Bloom to write a book about ones in the Renaissance and Romanticism. It seems Shakespeare may have thought himself a mirror of humanity, Wordsworth a lamp to humanity.

I have come to a new metaphor in my thoughts. I don't know if it is truly new, its nature should tell you that. It probably owes plenty to the subtle, realist symbolic structure of A River Runs Through It.

I am not a lamp, I am not a mirror. I am a part of a river.
I am not a thing apart from my culture.
I am a collection, a few rocks, an eddy, a gurgle.
pieces of my culture are caught in the liquid tendrils of my thought,
and sometimes released to surprising effect.
Other movements of the stream and world around me push symbols and facts into me
They are often ejected with the same force, for good or ill.
I am a part of a greater stream, and I may have my peculiar eddy
my few fish, gathered cobbled bottom,
The words I express myself with may be unique
But I am only part of the river, and the river is the world.

I hate it when I finish something like this and begin to feel it's just over-poeticized, over-thought elephant pee metaphor.

The problem of replicants

In one of the many great moments of Blade Runner, Rachel asks Deckard, "Have you ever retired a human by mistake?" and when he answers "No" she replies "but in your position, that is a risk." But the problem in Blade Runner seems to run deeper. When we finally discover the possibility, nay likelihood, of Deckard himself being a replicant, we begin to wonder just how many are replicants, and just how few are humans. And we realize that the greatest problem of Blade Runner may be, in a way, identical with the fact that retiring a human may not be as much a risk as we thought.

What a strangely Baudrilliardian problem.


Warning: May contain callous rants.

Maybe I should read more IMDb movie comments... it seems to make me want to write very much.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't.

I just finished watching the Japanese film "Nobody Knows." (I've been watching a lot of Japanese film this week, after realizing I hadn't seen that many modern Japanese live-action films.) I know this may seem terribly callous, but I wasn't moved by the film. I am often moved by films, and am often moved by foreign films, so, before you go that route, just stop and go spew some comment on a youtube video. Here area couple of the reasons, as they seem to me, I wasn't affected:

1. I'm finding more and more that "gritty" filming is just pretentious carbon copying. I've seen all these angles before, and, unlike one user's comment, it doesn't make me feel like I'm just another kid in the apartment. For one thing, were I another kid, I wouldn't be standing that close to the other kids, and I wouldn't get random strange perspective shots. The cutting rhythm of these "gritty" films just seems off to me, and, most annoying, I'm tired, tired, and very tired, of the same "buzz" used for a quiet outdoor city scene. Every scene in every country that is supposed to be of some park where something terrible is about to happen, has the same semi-natural "buzzzzz-cricket-cricket-buzzzzz" sound effect, and it's as bad a Wilhelm scream without the irony! I'm sorry, "gritty" camera work and buzzing backgrounds, and lots of things shot off of brown-tinted pale walls doesn't make me feel like I'm in real life, it makes me feel like I'm in some movie's version of real life that wasts to emphasize how horrible this life is, and, because they can't do this in subtle, real, or ironic ways, they just decide to tint everything slightly more like... crap (I'm trying to keep this somewhat PG).

2. I didn't find the kids that believable, and reality backed me up. I really, honestly, have little problem with Disney films, because almost everyone knows they're not real, but when a film like this comes in and tries to make something seem "real" it needs to get the facts straight. The kid who died, in reality, didn't die by accident. She was killed by her older brother's friend over a fracking BOWL OF RAMEN. That should give you some idea of the older brother's character, too, and that he may not have been the mature, sad, loving young man portrayed in the movie. Yes, all the performances by the kids were great, but I'm beginning to believe more and more that kids just have an easy time acting, and we always tend to find them more believable than adults. Kids are natural hypnotists, it's how they survive, to make parents believe that it's important to care about them. That's not to say it's not important to care about kids, just that kids know it's important to care about them, and have developed how to make parents care very carefully. Call it evolution or design or whatever you want, either way it makes sense. Kids are natural hypnotists and con men.

So, that's my rant. Strange, disconnected, quite possibly callous. But it's mine, and I'm probably going to stick by it.

Wikis, Lolcats, and the internet itself: A paean to collaboration

Paean: An exultant song of praise.

I've been thinking about collaboration lately. I've realized that, while there are many academics in praise of collaboration, the internet does little enough praising of itself. Sure, we all know about Wikipedia, we all speak out vaguely in praise of it, but, like the criticism, I find so much of the praise to be so blandly general. To say that "collaboration works" or that "Wikipedia has so much more information" or isn't all that inaccurate is to ender a world of ideals, and I love ideals, but I also love experience. I love those experiences that take my breath away. So, every once in a while, I'm going to post something that shows just how a group fights the rampant stupidity of humanity, an extremely well-written Wiki, maybe one where collaboration has been done right, maybe just in a hilarious lolcat. Because understanding how these things are done right is an important step towards understanding collaboration, which is so key to all learning today, from the traditional academies and their peer-reviewed research, to wikis and blogs.