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Posts Tagged ‘names

“Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love”*…

Or is it? The web– and the world– are awash in talk of the Mimetic Theory of Desire (or Rivalry, as its creator, René Girard, would also have it). Stanford professor (and Philosophy Talk co-host) Joshua Landy weights in with a heavy word of caution…

Here are two readings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Which do you think we should be teaching in our schools and universities?

Reading 1. Hamlet is unhappy because he, like all of us, has no desires of his own, and therefore has no being, properly speaking. The best he can do is to find another person to emulate, since that’s the only way anyone ever develops the motivation to do anything. Shakespeare’s genius is to show us this life-changing truth.

Reading 2. Hamlet is unhappy because he, like all of us, is full of body thetans, harmful residue of the aliens brought to Earth by Xenu seventy-five million years ago and disintegrated using nuclear bombs inside volcanoes. Since it is still some time until the practice of auditing comes into being, Hamlet has no chance of becoming “clear”; it is no wonder that he displays such melancholy and aimlessness. Shakespeare’s genius is to show us this life-changing truth.

Whatever you make of the first, I’m rather hoping that you feel at least a bit uncomfortable with the second. If so, I have a follow-up question for you: what exactly is wrong with it? Why not rewrite the textbooks so as to make it our standard understanding of Shakespeare’s play? Surely you can’t fault the logic behind it: if humans have indeed been full of body thetans since they came into existence, and Hamlet is a representation of a human being, Hamlet must be full of body thetans. What is more, if everyone is still full of body thetans, then Shakespeare is doing his contemporaries a huge favor by telling them, and the new textbooks will be doing us a huge favor by telling the world. Your worry, presumably, is that this whole body thetan business is just not true. It’s an outlandish hypothesis, with nothing whatsoever to support it. And since, as Carl Sagan once said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” we would do better to leave it alone.

I think you see where I’m going with this. The fact is, of course, that the first reading is just as outlandish as the second. As I’m about to show (not that it should really need showing), human beings do have desires of their own. That doesn’t mean that all our desires are genuine; it’s always possible to be suckered into buying a new pair of boots, regardless of the fact that they are uglier and shoddier than our old ones, just because they are fashionable. What it means is that some of our desires are genuine. And having some genuine desires, and being able to act on them, is sufficient for the achievement of authenticity. For all we care, Hamlet’s inky cloak could be made by Calvin Klein, his feathered hat by Diane von Furstenberg; the point is that he also has motivations (to know things, to be autonomous, to expose guilt, to have his story told accurately) that come from within, and that those are the ones that count.

To my knowledge, no one in the academy actually reads Hamlet (or anything else) the second way. But plenty read works of literature the first way. René Girard, the founder of the approach, was rewarded for doing so with membership in the Académie française, France’s elite intellectual association. People loved his system so much that they established a Colloquium on Violence and Religion, hosted by the University of Innsbruck, complete with a journal under the ironically apt name Contagion. More recently, Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, loved it so much that he sank millions of dollars into Imitatio, an institute for the dissemination of Girardian thought. And to this day, you’ll find casual references to the idea everywhere, from people who seem to think it’s a truth, one established by René Girard. (Here’s a recent instance from the New York Times opinion pages: “as we have learned from René Girard, this is precisely how desires are born: I desire something by way of imitation, because someone else already has it.”) All of which leads to an inevitable question: what’s the difference between Girardianism and Scientology? Why has the former been more successful in the academy? Why is the madness of theory so, well, contagious?…

Are we really dependent on others for our desires? Does that mechanism inevitably lead to rivalry, scapegoating, and division? @profjoshlandy suggests not: “Deceit, Desire, and the Literature Professor: Why Girardians Exist,” in @StanfordArcade. Via @UriBram in @TheBrowser. Eminently worth reading in full.

* Friedrich Nietzsche (an inspiration to Girard)


As we tease apart theorizing, we might spare a thought for William Whewell; he died on this date in 1866. A scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science, he was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

At a time when specialization was increasing, Whewell was renown for the breadth of his work: he published the disciplines of mechanics, physics, geology, astronomy, and economics, while also finding the time to compose poetry, author a Bridgewater Treatise, translate the works of Goethe, and write sermons and theological tracts. In mathematics, Whewell introduced what is now called the Whewell equation, defining the shape of a curve without reference to an arbitrarily chosen coordinate system. He founded mathematical crystallography and developed a revision of  Friedrich Mohs’s classification of minerals. And he organized thousands of volunteers internationally to study ocean tides, in what is now considered one of the first citizen science projects.

But some argue that Whewell’s greatest gift to science was his wordsmithing: He created the words scientist and physicist by analogy with the word artist; they soon replaced the older term natural philosopher. He also named linguisticsconsiliencecatastrophismuniformitarianism, and astigmatism.

Other useful words were coined to help his friends: biometry for John Lubbock; Eocine, Miocene and Pliocene for Charles Lyell; and for Michael Faraday, electrode, anode, cathode, diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ion (whence the sundry other particle names ending -ion).


“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”*…

Ducklings everywhere: the names of Donald Duck’s three nephews across Europe, from Mapologies (where one will also find the other names of Donald himself and of the Flintstones).

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


As we dunk on Uncle Donald, we might recall that it was on thus date in 1921 that Newman Laugh-O-Gram studio released it’s first (more or less) four animated films as a kind of demo reel. The first three were live shots of young director Walt Disney drawing a single fame; the fourth, “Kansas City’s Spring Clean-up,” was actually animated.

Laugh-O-Gram only lasted two years, but it was long enough for Disney to recruit several pioneers of animation: Ub IwerksHugh HarmanFriz Freleng, and Carman Maxwell— and, with Iwerks, to create Mickey Mouse.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 20, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Hands have their own language”*…



Saint John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci


Most body parts come alone or in pairs. We have one nose, one tongue, and one navel. We sport two eyes, two knees, two feet, and so on. Fingers are a glaring exception—we’ve got a party of five on each side. This presents difficulties. When we want to single one out from the group—to specify which finger we slammed in the door, for instance—what do we do? We name them, naturally. But how?

This is a uniquely human problem. Pentadactyly—the condition of having five fingers—is pervasive in the biological world, but we are the only species that has the capacity (or occasion) to talk about those fingers. The problem is not just that we have five of them, but that they are so vexingly similar: they differ slightly in size and dexterity, but all have that pucker-knuckled, nail-capped look. How have people in different times and places solved this problem? How have they named the members of this confusable quintet? Answering this question offers a tour of the inventiveness of the human mind…

Our names for our fingers show a surprising depth of cultural variation—and similarity: “Where Do Finger Names Come From?

* Simon Van Booy


As we dub our digits, we might send carefully-timed birthday greetings to a man with very accomplished fingers, Abraham-Louis Breguet; he was born on this date in 1747.  The leading horologist of his day, he introduced a number of formative innovation into watch- and clock-making.  He built the first gong spring (which decreased the size of repeater watches) and the first anti-shock device or “pare-chute” (which improved the reliability of his watches while making them less fragile).  He sold the first modern carriage clock to Napoleon Bonaparte, and created the first “tact watch” by which time could be read by touch.  And finally– and most impactfully– he built the first tourbillon (the self-winding mechanism that introduced the “perpétuelle” watch), which he patented in 1801.

220px-Abraham_Louis_Breguet_02 source



Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton”*…


A section of the Endonym Map


An endonym is the name for a place, site or location in the language of the people who live there. These names may be officially designated by the local government or they may simply be widely used.

This map depicts endonyms of the countries of the world in their official or national languages. In cases where a country has more than one national or official language, the language that is most widely used by the local population is shown…

See and explore the whole world at  “Endonyms of the World.”

* George III


As we contemplate connecting across cultural differences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell first spoke through his experimental “telephone”– to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room.  Bell wrote in his notebook, “I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: ‘Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.’ To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.”

Bell’s lab notebook, March 10, 1876


Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

Where everybody knows your name…

Some have fame thrust upon them…


Some just happen upon it along the way…


Artist and scientist Stephen Von Worley has mashed up Google Maps and the Open Street Map Project to create a search tool that will let one find all of the streets in the U.S. that share one’s name (first name, for now… as a bonus, one also gets places and things).

One can visit Steve’s Data Pointed to find one’s namesakes…

As we rethink our routes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that the FBI exonerated “Louie Louie,” declaring that the lyrics of the 1963 recording by The Kingsmen– widely rumored to be “dirty”— were in fact simply indecipherable.  After analyzing the disc at its intended 45 rpm and also at 33 1/3 and 78, and interviewing a member of the band, the FBI Laboratory declared the lyrics to be officially “unintelligible at any speed.”

In fact the song’s creator, Richard Berry, had released “Louie Louie” to mild regional success– and no lyrical controversy– a decade earlier.  But the FBI’s verdict notwithstanding, a cloud hovered over the tune: in 2005, the superintendent of the Benton Harbor, Michigan school system refused to let the marching band at one of the schools play the song in a parade; she later relented.

from the FBI’s “Louie Louie” file (source)

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