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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“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

“Time is the longest distance between two places”*…

 

In 1949, on the occasion of Einstein’s seventieth birthday, Gödel presented him with an unexpected gift: a proof of the nonexistence of time. And this was not a mere verbal proof, of the sort that philosophers like Parmenides, Immanuel Kant, and J. M. E. McTaggart had come up with over the centuries; it was a rigorous mathematical proof. Playing with Einstein’s own equations of general relativity, Gödel found a novel solution that corresponded to a universe with closed timelike loops. A resident of such a universe, by taking a sufficiently long round trip in a rocket ship, could travel back into his own past. Einstein was not entirely pleased with Gödel’s hypothetical universe; indeed, he admitted to being “disturbed” that his equations of relativity permitted something as Alice in Wonderland–like as spatial paths that looped backward in time. Gödel himself was delighted by his discovery, since he found the whole idea of time to be painfully mysterious. If time travel is possible, he submitted, then time itself is impossible. A past that can be revisited has not really passed. So, Gödel concluded, time does not exist…

Put yourself in Jim Holt‘s skilled hands for an explanation and an exploration of implications, in “The Grand Illusion.”

* Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

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As we check our watches, we might recall that it was on this date in 1925 that Clarence Birdseye first tested frozen peas with consumers at a Chester, NY grocery store.  Birdseye had already patented a range of “flash-freezing” processes and devices, inspired by his experiences as a biologist and trapper in Labrador earlier in the century.  He had noticed that while slow freezing creates ice crystals in frozen foods– crystals that, when thawed, create sogginess– meat exposed to the extremely cold temperatures in the Canadian North– frozen essentially instantly– didn’t create internal ice, and were as tasty when thawed months later as fresh.  Birdseye created quick-frozen vegetables and meats as a storable option to fresh, and in 1930 offered a range of 26 frozen meats and vegetables.

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Written by LW

November 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

“We must believe in free will; we have no choice”*…

 

As the debate between determinists and defenders of free will rages on (as e.g., here), Jessica Hagy weighs in with an entry in her “Indexed” series:

Busy = Beholden

* Isaac Bashevis Singer

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As we concede that context is critical, we might send shocking birthday greetings to a man who exercised free will whether he had it or not: the enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud; he was born on this date in 1854.  With his buddy, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud was a leader of the Decadent Movement; fueled by absinthe and hashish, he succeeded in shocking a literary establishment that was nonetheless awed by his visionary verse, which influenced modern literature and arts, inspired various musicians, and prefigured Surrealism.

All known literature is written in the language of common sense—except Rimbaud’s

- Paul Valéry

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Written by LW

October 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”*…

 

Readers may recall our old friend Michael “The Man of 1,000 Voices” Winslow.  On the heels of yesterday’s visit to the Crypt of Civilization, here is Michael’s tribute to one of the items therein: “The History of the Typewriter.”

email readers click here for video

* Ernest Hemingway

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As we capitulate to QWERTY, we might send deeply-thoughtful birthday greetings to a eloquent employer of the typewriter, Hannah Arendt; she was born on this date in 1906.  Though often categorized as a philosopher, she self-identified as a political theorist, arguing that philosophy deals with “man in the singular,” while her work centers on the fact that “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.”  One of the seminal political thinkers of the twentieth century, the power and originality of her thinking was evident in works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution and The Life of the Mind.  Her famous New Yorker essay and later book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil– in which she raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction– was controversial as it was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.  That book ended:

Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

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Written by LW

October 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top”*…

 

Miami Beach, from above

Last weekend, tens of thousands made their annual end-of-summer pilgrimage to the beach…

On ground level, these crowds look like tidal waves of coconut-oiled flesh, but as seen in the work of Belgian photographer Antoine Rose, the effect is much different: from above, the crowds that gather on the beaches of New York and Miami take on splendid geometries that make each beachgoer’s place in the sand seem almost methodical.

The project that eventually became Rose’s Up In The Air series started back in 2000, when he was head photographer of the Kiteboarding World Cup. Using a helicopter to film kiteboarders as they raced, Rose became fascinated with aerial photography. But it was only after flying over the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana during a kiteboarding final in Rio that Rose turned his lens from athletes to beachcombers, snapping the herd-like patterns of their oiled hides and colorful beach towels and umbrellas from the air…

The photographer insists he doesn’t coordinate his shots, nor does he alter them after the fact with Photoshop, aside from some standard color correction and post-processing. The beaches appear to us just as Rose saw them leaning out of the side of a helicopter with his camera pointed down.

Read more at “Beach Crowds Are Beautiful From 5,000 Feet In The Air,” and see more of Rose’s remarkable photos at his site.

* Arnold Bennett

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As we head for the high ground, we might recall that it was on this date in 1516 that Thomas More sent Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia (or, as we know it today, Utopia), his fictionalized work of political philosophy, to the printer.  It was edited by Erasmus, and printed later that year.  More, a lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, was beheaded by Henry in 1535 for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England.  More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther,  William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  (He is remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”) Utopia wasn’t translated into English until 16 years after his execution.

An illustration from the 1516/first edition of Utopia

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Thomas More

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Written by LW

September 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All philosophy lies in two words, sustain and abstain”*…

 

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To Epictetus’ dictum in the title of this post, one might add “disdain”…

“That most deformed concept-cripple of all time.”

Friedrich Nietzsche on Immanuel Kant

“Hegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense.”

Arthur Schopenhauer on Georg Hegel

“There’s no ‘theory’ in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find… some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a 12-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying.”

Noam Chomsky on Slavoj Žižek

“Well, with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my… point is that Chomsky, who always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurate… well, I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong.”

Slavoj Žižek on Noam Chomsky

“Russell’s books should be bound in two colors, those dealing with mathematical logic in red – and all students of philosophy should read them; those dealing with ethics and politics in blue – and no one should be allowed to read them.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein on Bertrand Russell

The hits just keep on coming at “The 30 Harshest Philosopher-on-Philosopher Insults in History” and “Philosophers’ Insults.”

Special bonuses:  Monty Python’s “Philosophers’ Football” and “Dead Philosophers in Heaven.”

* Epictetus

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As we live the examined life, we might send porcelain brithday greetings to Marcel Duchamp; he was born on this date in 1887.  A painter, sculptor, and conceptual artist, Duchamp was, with Picasso and Matisse, one the defining figures in the revolution that redefined the plastic arts in the early Twentieth Century– in Duchamp’s case, as an early Cubist (the star of the famous 1913 New York Armory Show), as the originator of ready-mades, and as a father of Dada.

In the 1930s, Duchamp turned from the production of art to his other great passion, chess.  He became a competitive player; then, as he reached the limits of his ability, a chess writer.  Duchamp’s   Samuel Beckett, an friend of Duchamp, used Duchamp’s thinking about chess strategy as the narrative device for the 1957 play of the same name, Endgame.  In 1968, Duchamp played an on-stage chess match with avant-garde composer, friend, and regular chess opponent John Cage, at a concert entitled Reunion, in which the music was produced by a series of photoelectric cells underneath the chessboard, triggered when pieces were moved in game play.

Duchamp (center; his wife Teeny, right) “performing” Reunion with John Cage (left) in 1968

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Written by LW

July 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

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