Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’
Las Vegas– and the world– lost two icons of neon sign design on April 19th: Betty Willis, seen above with the iconic “Welcome” sign that she designed, and Brian “Buzz” Leming, creator of many of the Strip’s most memorable marquees, passed away within hours of each other.
Willis and Leming both worked at the Western Sign Company, where they struck up a friendship. Many of their creations are preserved in the Neon Museum’s outdoor “Boneyard,” where it stores its relics.
* Nelson Algren (writing about Chicago, though it’s surely apropos of Las Vegas as well)
As we switch on the lights, we might send forbearing birthday wishes to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; he was born on this date in 121. The last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers; his Meditations, written on campaign before he became emperor, is still a central text on the philosophy of service and duty.
Wittgenstein playing Pictionary with Freud; Russell, Hegel, and Marx as Pokemon characters; Sartre’s birthday party; Greek Hold’em– all this and much, much more merriment (in larger format) at the exquisite Existential Comics. The inevitable anguish of living a brief life in a absurd world. Also jokes.
* Ludwig Wittgenstein
As we get behind the greater good, we might spare a thought for Johann Christoph Denner; he died on this date in 1707. One of the Baroque Era’s leading musical instrument makers, he was renown throughout Europe for his well-tuned recorders, flutes, oboes, and bassoons. But he is best remembered as the inventor the clarinet, a result of Denner’s attempts to refine the chalumeau, the first true single reed instrument. The chalumeau and clarinet are the only woodwinds with a cylindrical bore; others (including the flute) have a conical bore.
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.”
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.
* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
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.”
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…
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…
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…
* Eric van Lustbader
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
… 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…
… 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
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
… 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
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