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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

“The truth is out there”*…


Photographer Robert Ormerod took a road trip from Roswell, New Mexico to Area 51, exploring our fascination with the unknown by immersing himself in the lore extra-terrestrials… and in the lives of those who seek them.

More of his photographs, with his commentary, at “Inside the everyday world of UFO hunters.”

* tagline of The X-Files


As we deliberate the Drake Equation, we might send ideal birthday greetings to Marsilio Ficino; he was born on this date in 1433.  An Italian scholar and Catholic priest, he was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance.  The first translator of Plato’s complete extant works into Latin, he was important in the revival of Neoplatonism, and was in touch with every major academic thinker and writer of his day. His Florentine Academy was an attempt to revive Plato’s Academy, and influenced both the direction and the tenor of the Italian Renaissance and thus the development of European philosophy.

Ficino was also an astrologer, and is credited with having inspired the Tarot card deck– the Tarot of Marseilles– that was the pattern from which many subsequent tarot decks derive.

Marsilio Ficino, from a fresco painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence



Written by LW

October 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Oh housebuilder! Now you are seen”*…


Movie star Leonardo DiCaprio’s Malibu dream house hit the market on Friday, listing for $10.95 million. Leo purchased the midcentury California bungalow (can you still call something a bungalow when it costs more than $10 mil? The jury is out!) back in 1998, and the three bed, two bath home is a beaut. It’s on star-studded Carbon Beach, the views are killer, and the interiors are gorgeous.

But the truth is, life is probably meaningless and there is a strong chance that we all die alone. Could buying this house change any of that? Is it possible that life at 21844 Pacific Coast Highway, with your own private hot tub and large ocean front deck, could actually offer a reprieve from the agony of being a human in the world? Or, is it certain that “we cannot escape anguish, for we are anguish,” as John-Paul Sartre once put it? Great question!…

An existentialist interview with Leonardo DiCaprio’s real estate agent: “Leo DiCaprio’s $11 Million Malibu Beach House And The Soul-Crushing Agony Of Being Human.” [via the always-illuminating Pop Loser]

* Gautama Buddha


As we sigh, we might send nihilist birthday greetings to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche; he was born on this date in 1844.  A philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist, Nietzsche is probably best remembered for his concepts of the “death of God”, the Übermensch, the eternal recurrence, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy, and the will to power… which, among them, have had an extraordinary impact on thinkers as diverse as Martin Heidegger and Ayn Rand on the one hand, and Michel Foucault (whose birthday this also is) and Jacques Derrida on the other.

When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal’ I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value.

– Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense), 1873


Written by LW

October 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

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



* “Sheldon,” The Big Bang Theory


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.




Written by LW

September 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

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



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


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.


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


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).


“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


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.


“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


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.


Written by LW

April 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

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