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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“The ice caps are melting, Leonard. In the future, swimming won’t be optional”*…

 

 xkcd

* “Sheldon,” The Big Bang Theory

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As we turn up the air conditioner, we might spare a thought for Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he died on this date in 1994.  One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments. (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)

Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

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Written by LW

September 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

“If God dropped acid, would He see people?”*…

 

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We had long periods of silence and of listening to music. I was accustomed to playing rock ‘n’ roll while tripping, but the record collection here was all classical and Broadway show albums. After we heard the Bach “Cantata No. 7” Groucho said, “I may be Jewish, but I was seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals. Do you think Bach knew he was doing that?”

Later, we were listening to the score of a musical comedy Fanny. There was one song called “Welcome Home,” where the lyrics go something like, “Welcome home, says the clock,” and the chair says, “Welcome home,” and so do various other pieces of furniture. Groucho started acting out each line as if he were actually being greeted by the duck, the chair and so forth. He was like a child, charmed by his own ability to respond to the music that way…

Paul Krassner, publisher of  The Realist and all-round avatar of counter-culture, guided T. S. Eliot’s buddy Groucho Marx through his first acid trip (using the a dose from the same batch that fueled Richard Alpert’s last trip before he became Ram Dass).  He wrote about it both in High Times and in The Realist.  More of the backstory at Dangerous Minds.

[TotH to buddy Chistopher Enzi]

* Steven Wright

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As we hum “Eight Miles High,” we might send well-reasoned birthday greetings to Enlightenment giant John Locke; the physician and philosopher died on this date in 1704.  An intellectual descendant of Francis Bacon, Locke was among the first empiricists. He spent over 20 years developing the ideas he published in his most significant work, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), an analysis of the nature of human reason which promoted experimentation as the basis of knowledge.  Locke established “primary qualities” (e.g., solidity, extension, number) as distinct from “secondary qualities” (sensuous attributes like color or sound). He recognized that science is made possible when the primary qualities, as apprehended, create ideas that faithfully represent reality.

Locke is, of course, also well-remembered as a key developer (with Hobbes, and later Rousseau) of the concept of the Social Contract.  Locke’s theory of “natural rights” influenced Voltaire and Rosseau– and formed the intellectual basis of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

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Written by LW

August 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

“We are charmed by neatness”*…

 

In the spirit of our earlier examination of Knolling (“To Knoll It Is To Love It…“)…

… from Austin Radcliffe

Things Organized Neatly.

* Ovid

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As we get things lined up, we might spare a thought for for an enemy of ordered neatness (at least, of the complacent intellectual kind), Thomas Samuel Kuhn; he died on this date in 1996.  A physicist, historian, and philosopher of science , Kuhn believed that scientific knowledge didn’t advance in a linear, continuous way, but via periodic “paradigm shifts.”  Karl Popper had approached the same territory in his development of the principle of “falsification” (to paraphrase, a theory isn’t false until it’s proven true; it’s true until it’s proven false).  But while Popper worked as a logician, Kuhn worked as a historian.  His 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions made his case; and while he had– and has— his detractors, Kuhn’s work has been deeply influential in both academic and popular circles (indeed, the phrase “paradigm shift” has become an English-language staple).

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“All our knowledge begins with the senses”*…

 

Human ear complaining to Nature from the Spiegel der Weisheit manuscript (Salzburg, 1430)

The post-Enlightenment scientific world has a closed model of perception: the subject’s sense organs receive information, which is passed to the brain where it is interpreted. In the medieval world, perception was a more open process, where much might pass not only between perceived and perceiver, but also the other way round, from the perceiver to the object or individual who was the focus of perception. This was a two-way process, at the very least.  Sitting at my desk today, I can feel that it is hard and smooth; it might also be warm or cold to my touch. If I had sat here 600 years ago, my senses might have transmitted to the desk physical, moral and spiritual qualities, and it might have passed others to me: if this was a place that had been used by a holy or evil person, those qualities might reside in the desk. This was not the one-way transmission of ‘information’ that one anticipates today, but something much broader, and, in the highly moral world of the Middle Ages, the transfer of these broader qualities was of immense significance…

More at “The medieval senses were transmitters as much as receivers.”

* Immanuel Kant

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As we tentatively try transception, we might send cosmic birthday greetings to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; he was born on this date in 1881.  A Jesuit theologian, philosopher, geologist, and paleontologist, he conceived the idea of the Omega Point (a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving) and developed Vladimir Vernadsky‘s concept of noosphere.  Teilhard took part in the discovery of Peking Man, and wrote on the reconciliation of faith and evolutionary theory.  His thinking on both these fronts was censored during his lifetime by the Catholic Church (in particular for its implications for “original sin”); but in 2009, it lifted its ban.

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“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog”*…

 

Savior Barbie stands in front of a chalkboard in a run-down classroom somewhere in Africa. “It’s so sad that they don’t have enough trained teachers here. I’m not trained either, but I’m from the West,” the caption on the photo reads. In another, the plastic figurine poses in front shacks made from scrap metal and sticks: “Just taking a slumfie… Feeling so blessed.”

In the satirical Instagram account for Savior Barbie, Barbie is in Africa running an NGO that provides drinking water to locals. “Harnessing broken white hearts to provide water to those in Africa, one tear at a time,” the tagline for her organization reads. The account, started a month ago by two 20-something white women who have worked in East Africa, now has over 18,000 followers…

Savior Barbie also highlights the point that advocates and experts working on the continent have been observing for years—well-intentioned but naive volunteerism—or “voluntourism“—is at best ineffectual and at worst harmful to the developing countries it’s meant to serve. It drives an industry that sees 1.6 million people do volunteer work while on vacation every year, spending as much as $2 billion in the process. Nigerian-American author Teju Cole once dubbed this impulse the White Savior Industrial Complex

More at “Instagram’s White Savior Barbie neatly captures what’s wrong with “voluntourism” in Africa.” Pair with “The Smug Style in American Liberalism“– bracing stuff.

[TotH to EWW]

* Jack London

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As we rethink relief, 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.

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Written by LW

April 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me”*…

 

The British Library has recently digitized part of a multi-authored play, “The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore,” written between about 1596 and 1604. Three pages of this draft of the play are apparently written by William Shakespeare, and they represent the only available sample of his handwriting in a play script.

Another playwright, Anthony Munday, wrote the bulk of the play, about the life of Henry VIII’s chancellor Sir Thomas More. Shakespeare was apparently called in to add a single scene to the middle of the script: a speech the historical More gave on May Day 1517, calming rioters who were looting and destroying property in an attempt to expel foreigners from London

“Though proving that More’s words were indeed written by Shakespeare is not straightforward, in their keen sympathy for the plight of the alienated and dispossessed they seem to prefigure the insights of great dramas of race such as The Merchant of Venice and Othello,” the British Library’s Andrew Dickson writes. “Whoever wrote them had a fine ear for the way rhetoric can sway a crowd … but also a sharp eye for the troubled relationship between ethnic minorities and majorities.” …

The complete text of the speech, with more of the backstory, at “A Plea on Behalf of Immigrants, Written (Most Likely) in Shakespeare’s Hand, Now Digitized.”  Watch it delivered beautifully by Sir Ian McKellen in this short video:

email readers click here for video

* Carlos Fuentes

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As we marvel that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, we might send absolutist birthday greetings to Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury; he was born on this date in 1588.  A father of political philosophy and political science, Hobbes developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the view that all legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid– all this, though Hobbes was, on rational grounds, a champion of absolutism for the sovereign. His 1651 book Leviathan established social contract theory, the foundation of most later Western political philosophy.

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Written by LW

April 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

“To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all.”*…

 

Douglas Coupland, “Slogans for the 21st Century”

… Evangelical Christians look to the book of Revelations for clues as to what’s to come next; the secular world looks to contemporary art, which seems to operate in a world that has calcified into a self-propagating MFA‑ocracy as orthodox as any extremist religion. But when did making art and foretelling the future become the same thing? What’s the rush? The rush is already coming at us quickly enough. The future of art has to be something that will give us bit of slow. And I hope that it happens quickly…

From an essay by artist and novelist/essayist Douglas Coupland, “What is the Future of Art?

* Pablo Picasso

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As we celebrate, on 3.14.16, both Pi Day and Einstein’s birthday, we might send ontological birthday greetings to Maurice Merleau-Ponty; he was born on this date in 1908.  a phenomenological philosopher who was strongly influenced by Husserl and Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty wrote about perception, art, and politics in the service of understanding the constitution of human experience and meaning.  He served on the editorial board of Sartre’s Les Temps modernes.  His work has been widely influential, from Hubert Dreyfus’s use of Merleau-Ponty’s thought in the seminal What Computers Can’t Do, to the rise of French, then European feminism.  At his death (in 1961) he was working towards an understanding of “Ecophenomenology,” suggesting in notes left behind the need for “a radically transformed understanding of ‘nature'”:  “Do a psychoanalysis of Nature: it is the flesh, the mother… Nature as the other side of humanity (as flesh, nowise as ‘matter’).” 

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Written by LW

March 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

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