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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“I think it’s cool to wear roadkill”*…

Anna Paquin, modeling a piece from her line of “found fur” clothing and accessories

Approximately 50 million animals are killed every year for their fur; by comparison, 1 million animals a day– 365 million a year– are killed on the roads of America.  As Culture Change puts it, “only meat-eaters take a larger toll than its motorists.”

Where many animal lovers see, simply, tragedy, Anna Paquin sees opportunity as well.  Determined to create a clothing category that might sound oxymoronic– “ethical fur”– Paquin has founded Petit Mort, a company that recycles roadkill into fashionable clothing and accessories.

Wrap yourself in Anna’s story at “One Woman Is Revolutionizing the Fur Industry. By Using Roadkill.”

* Ke$ha

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As we bundle up, we might spare a thought for Hypatia; she was killed on this date in 370 CE.  A mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, she was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria.  She was murdered by a mob of Christian anti-pagan fanatics on the steps of an Alexandria church called The Caesarium– as a result of which, she has become a symbol of martyred Reason and of feminism. Stephen Greenblatt suggests that her murder “effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life”; Kathleen Wider proposes that her murder marked the end of Classical antiquity.

Neo-platonism is a progressive philosophy, and does not expect to state final conditions to men whose minds are finite. Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.

–Hypatia

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Written by LW

March 3, 2015 at 1:01 am

“What’s in a name?”*…

 

Create your own “Hipster Business Names“, courtesy of Connor Skye Riley.

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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As we noodle on nomenclature, we might send ambitious birthday greetings to Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola; he was born on this date in 1463.  An Italian philosopher, he undertook, in 1486, at the age of 23, to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers, in the process of which he wrote his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, which has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”; a revitalization of Neo-Platonism, it was a seminal text of Renaissance humanism and of what has been called the “Hermetic Reformation.”

Pico’s portrait, from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

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Written by LW

February 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Learning languages is like learning history from the inside out”*…

 

In a way that’s analogous to the evolution of morphology via mutation, the changes in the languages that we speak are driven by “mistakes” that get baked into practice.  For instance…

AMMUNITION

projectiles to be fired from a gun

It is common to misanalyze an article that precedes a word as if it were part of that word. Here the French phrase la munition was misanalyzed so the “a” of the article became part of the word, becoming l’ammunition

ARCHIPELAGO

a group of many islands in a large body of water

The etymology of archipelago seems like it should be from Greek arkhi meaning “chief” andpelagos “sea,” suggesting the importance of a sea with so many islands. The problem is that this form never occurs in ancient Greek, and the modern form is actually borrowed from Italian, with the intended meaning being “the Aegean Sea.” If that’s the case, then the archi- inarchipelago is actually a corrupted version of Aigaion, which is how you say “Aegean” in Greek…

More words that originated in error.

* Eric van Lustbader

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As we misspeak creatively, we might spare a thought for Baruch (or Benedict) de Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher who lived a quiet public life as a lens grinder– but whose rationalism and determinism put him in opposition to Descartes and helped lay the foundation for The Enlightenment, and whose pantheistic views led to his excommunication from the Jewish community in Amsterdam.  He died on this date in 1677.

As men’s habits of mind differ, so that some more readily embrace one form of faith, some another, for what moves one to pray may move another to scoff, I conclude … that everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed, and that faith should be judged only by its fruits; each would then obey God freely with his whole heart, while nothing would be publicly honored save justice and charity.

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

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Written by LW

February 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The day after tomorrow is the third day of the rest of your life”*…

 

French Republican Calendar of 1794, Philibert-Louis Debucourt

 

… The Earth’s orbit is almost — but not quite — a round number, and so we continually try to fit the natural world into a mathematical order that makes sense. Even though the Gregorian Calendar solved one major problem (a year now aligned with the time of the Earth’s orbit), in the eyes of many it’s still far from perfect, and two quirks of its construction have continued to nag those inclined towards a more rational calendar. First is the inconsistent number of days in each month, and second, the fact that 365 is not divisible by seven, so that each year calendar dates fall on different days of the week…

Colin Dickey explores some the modern attempts to “correct” these short-comings in “Tempo Shifts.”

… As the Sumerian God Gozer tells Bill Murray and friends at the climax of Ghostbusters, we choose the means of our destruction. The End we imagine, Kermode writes, “will reflect [our] irreducibly intermediary preoccupations,” which is why the Apocalypse is always assumed to be happening within years or decades, rather than centuries or millennia. The plain fact being that no matter how we try to organize and structure the calendar — be we French Revolutionaries, post-Soviet mathematicians, or American evangelicals — we design it so that we are the center of history. Time and tide may wait for no man, but the calendar always revolves around the calendar-makers.

The full– and fascinating– story here.

* George Carlin

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As we count the days, we might spare a thought for Immanuel Kant; he died on this date in 1804.  One of the central figures of modern philosophy, Kant is remembered primarily for his efforts to unite reason with experience (e.g., Critique of Pure Reason [Kritik der reinen Vernunft], 1781), and for his work on ethics (e.g., Metaphysics of Morals [Die Metaphysik der Sitten], 1797) and aesthetics (e.g., Critique of Judgment [Kritik der Urteilskraft], 1790).  But he made important contributions to mathematics as well:  Kant’s argument that mathematical truths are a form of synthetic a priori knowledge was cited by Einstein as an important early influence on his work.

There is … only a single categorical imperative and it is this: Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

- Chapter 11, Metaphysics of Morals

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Written by LW

February 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“History is a vast early warning system”*…

 

… Still, the hazards we face at any point in time have altogether-contemporary characteristics.  Happily, Anders Sandberg has ridden to the rescue a new collection of warning signs…

See them all at “Warning Signs for Tomorrow.”

* Norman Cousins

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As we duck and cover, we might spare a thought for René Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician who thought and therefore was; he died on this date in 1650.

Many contemporaries (perhaps most notably, Pascal) rejected his famous conclusion, the dualist separation of mind and body; more (Voltaire, et al.), since.  But Descartes’ emphasis on method and analysis, his disciplined integration of philosophy and physical science, his insistence on the importance of consciousness in epistemology, and perhaps most fundamentally, his the questioning of tradition and authority had a transformative– and lasting– effect on Western thought, and has earned him the “title” of Father of Modern Philosophy.

“In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn than to contemplate.”
– Rene Descartes

Frans Hals’ portrait of Descartes, c. 1649

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Written by LW

February 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Our greatest stupidities may be very wise”*…

 

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THE CANON OF PHILOSOPHY STUDENT KARAOKE SONGS

By Jarry Lee

“Total Eclipse of Descartes”

“Don’t You (Foucault About Me)”

“U Kant Touch This”

“Hit Me Baby Wittgenstein”

“Camus Feel the Love Tonight?”

“Get the Party Sartred”

“Forever Jung”

“I Kissed Hegel (And I Liked It)”

“Ain’t No Montaigne High Enough”

“Pop, Locke & Drop It”

“Bataille Will Always Love You”

“My Milkshake Brings All the Baudrillard”

“Rousseau Vain (You Probably Think This Song is About You)”

“Love Voltaire Us Apart”

“Psycho Schiller”

McSweeney’s

* Ludwig “Baby” Wittgenstein

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As we clear our throats, we might might send psychedelic birthday greetings to Terence Kemp McKenna; he was born on this date in 1948.  Often called called the “Timothy Leary of the 90s,” McKenna was a philosopher, psychonaut, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and author.  His writings on the consciousness-expanding capacity of hallucinogenic drugs earned him some enemies.  In 1993 Judy Corman, vice president of Phoenix House of New York, a drug treatment center, said in a letter to The New York Times: “Surely the fact that Terence McKenna says that the psilocybin mushroom ‘is the megaphone used by an alien, intergalactic Other to communicate with mankind’ is enough for us to wonder if taking LSD has done something to his mental faculties.”  But that same year, biologist Richard Evans Schultes, of Harvard University, wrote in American Scientist in a review of McKenna’s book Food of the Gods, that it was; “a masterpiece of research and writing” and that it “should be read by every specialist working in the multifarious fields involved with the use of psychoactive drugs.” Concluding that “it is, without question, destined to play a major role in our future considerations of the role of the ancient use of psychoactive drugs, the historical shaping of our modern concerns about drugs and perhaps about man’s desire for escape from reality with drugs.”

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Written by LW

November 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“One man’s insanity is another man’s genius”*…

 

Calvin- “I’m a misunderstood genius.”
Hobbes- “What’s misunderstood?”
Calvin- “Nobody thinks I’m a genius.”

- Bill Watterson

Tom Siegfried (former editor of Science News) writing in Nautilus:

The geniuses of popular notoriety aren’t the only great minds of scientific history. [We tend to] overlook many deserving names—the unsung geniuses overshadowed by more publicity-savvy rivals or under-appreciated because of when and where they lived. Presented below are my Top 10 of those insufficiently recognized scientific geniuses of all time, listed in chronological order.

Keep in mind that this is science and math only, so no Shakespeare, no Bobby Fischer, no Lennon and McCartney. Also, nobody still living is eligible—wouldn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

And remember, for list-making purposes, genius shouldn’t simply be thought of as high IQ. It’s more a combination of intellectual capacity and what was achieved with it. Geniuses transcend the time in which they live, contributing insights that allow future scientists to be smarter than the geniuses of the past. All the people listed here did that…

Consider, for example…

6. Antoine Parent (France, 1666-1716)

Parent applied his versatile intellect to a vast scope of scientific fields. He investigated physics and astronomy, cartography and geometry, chemistry and biology, and even music. He was most astute in analyzing practical matters such as friction’s effect on motion and stresses on structural beams, and attempted to compute the theoretical maximum efficiency of machines. For his exemplar he chose water wheels, widely used to harness the power of flowing streams for such tasks as sawing wood or milling grain. Parent got the wrong answer, but nevertheless laid the groundwork for the second law of thermodynamics. Parent’s harsh criticism of Descartes’ science earned him no friends among his French colleagues, though, who considered Parent to be tactless and aggressive. After he died of smallpox, one obituary writer commented that Parent “had goodness without showing it.”

5. Mary Somerville (Scotland, 1780-1872)

She was the Carl Sagan of the 19th century, one of the most respected and prolific popularizers of science of her age. Her one year of formal schooling (at age 10) triggered enough curiosity that she taught herself algebra and geometry (mostly in secret, as her father disapproved). She married and moved to London, but her husband died young, so she returned to Scotland and to science. When asked to translate Laplace’s works on celestial mechanics into English, she turned the translation into a popular explanation, launching a career of writing books that conveyed the cutting edge of 19th-century science to the wider literate public. Her work, universally praised by the scientific community, combined the genius of insight with the ability to convey it.

Check out the full roster at “Top Ten Unsung Geniuses.”

* Joyce Carol Oates

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As we repack our Pantheon, we might spare a thought for Blessed John (Johannes, Ioannes) Duns Scotus, O.F.M.; he died on this date in 1308.  One of the most important philosophers of the High Middle Ages (with his arch-rival, William of Ockham), he was a champion of a form of Scholasticism that came to be known as Scotism.

But he may be better remembered as a result of the slurs of 16th Century philosophers, who considered him a sophist– and coined the insult “dunce” (someone incapable of scholarship) from the name “Dunse” given to his followers in the 1500s.

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Written by LW

November 8, 2014 at 1:01 am

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