Posts concerning philosophy

4 Philosophical Questions Examined in Light of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

23:45 23 May 2011. Updated: 15:05 12 Mar 2012

Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s explorations of scale led me to ponder questions of meaning and meaninglessness, and reminded me of this excellent article by Julia Galef over at 3 Quarks Daily. The answer, of course, must be 42; the questions Galef addresses are:

  1. What’s the point of anything if we’re all going to be dead someday?
  2. What’s the purpose of our existence?
  3. How can any of our lives matter in the grand scheme of things?
  4. Things seem to happen without rhyme or reason.

(Presumably the last one should have been “why do things seem to happen without rhyme or reason?”)

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Self-Expression & Voice

22:37 16 Jan 2011. Updated: 20:10 18 Jan 2011

What does it mean to truly express yourself? At first glance, it may seem that this is a pointless question, since the truth value of self-expression can only really be measured by the subject. But that’s not how it really works, and generally we’re well able to spot falsity, artificiality, and posturing. I don’t mean that we’re able to detect lies, as I’m not really talking about objective truth here, but more about what we believe about ourselves and the use of our genuine voice, where “genuine” is something that can’t necessarily be pinned down by a solid definition.

This lack of a solid definition, and of empirical testability, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s probably easiest to observe “non-genuine self-expression” when children do it, or when we ourselves remember doing it as children. Children will generally do this imitatively, trying to act in some way that they’ve seen others act, most likely in an attempt to be treated similarly to how those others are treated. It’s clear to an observer that it’s an act, and the child knows it’s an act but is committed to denying that knowledge. That is an example of the inverse of self-expression, but probably only one of the easiest forms to spot—after all, which is more likely to occur as we grow older, that we give up posturing and posing to attract the kinds of attention we desire, or that we become far more adept at so doing?

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Reflections on Offendedness

18:16 03 Aug 2009. Updated: 19:33 03 Aug 2009

Several months ago I wrote a piece on Racism and Science Fiction/Fantasy. I wanted to write more about that, but it’s been tough for me to work my thoughts into something cogent enough to post; I still have at least one unfinished post on it lying around. Some recent online reading has helped me to identify one of the things that was disturbing me, however: the role of offendedness in the discussion. Its role in other discussions, including wider cultural debates, has also bothered me for a while, and this post is about my view on it and the path that led me to this articulation of it.

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I Think I Think, Therefore I Think I Am

13:59 10 May 2009. Updated: 23:45 01 Dec 2009

The title of this post is hardly original, but it’s been a favorite of mine for many years. Underneath the smartass exterior, however, the aphorism packs a fairly significant punch that’s not necessarily merely a variant on solipsism.

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xkcd on Dreams

23:51 16 Mar 2009

I don’t remember seeing this xkcd before. I like it.

(In my current mental state, however, I’m unable to not note that the message of the comic is a hell of a lot easier to act on when your status or privilege is above a certain level, and that horrifically, there are still lots of people on this planet for whom the first panel’s advice actually makes a great deal of sense if you replace “when a future employer” with “who”. For the majority of people who are likely to read this, though, the overall message likely holds.)

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Who Really Takes Fukuyama Seriously?

18:46 17 Feb 2009

I just watched this Slavoj Žižek lecture, which he gave at Google NYC and which I recommend, and was somewhat shocked at an answer he gave to the question (at about 1:03:10 in) “how do you respond to claims that Marxism and radicalism are dead?”—he answered, “the only serious question we have is this one, is Fukuyama, Francis, right or not?”

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David Foster Wallace’s Unpublished Philosophy Thesis

11:20 14 Dec 2008. Updated: 17:02 28 Jan 2009

I know that the title sounds like a joke, or maybe the intro to a parody piece, but in fact accurately describes the subject of this New York Times article. And really, anything that includes the phrase “demonic attention to detail” has to be worth reading.

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Shirky on Organizing Without Organizations

23:55 25 Mar 2008. Updated: 00:59 26 Mar 2008

I haven’t finished all of it yet, but Clay Shirky’s talk on networking, organization, and the internet is quite good.

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Taleb Seminar

20:11 10 Feb 2008

Last Monday I went to a Long Now Foundation seminar by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan—both books I would recommend to just about everyone. The title of the talk was “The Future Has Always Been Crazier Than We Thought”, and while Taleb did talk about our historic inability to predict what was going to happen in the future, I didn’t feel that ‘future craziness’ was actually a major theme. (If you change “Crazier” to “More Unpredictable” you get a more accurate title.)

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23:38 22 Jan 2008. Updated: 12:05 28 Jan 2008

No, not that, but this

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Favoritism and Friendship

23:23 18 Apr 2007. Updated: 20:13 13 May 2007

Where do the two blur into each other? Where does helping your friends become corrupt cronyism?

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Vocabulary from Sartre

23:47 12 Mar 2007

Reading Sartre (specifically Essays in Existentialism) tends to be fairly frustrating, primarily because comprehending what he’s talking about isn’t easy (at least for me). One of the reasons that it’s not easy is vocabulary. I’m not even counting explicitly foreign words like ebschattungen, or explicit (foreign) neologisms like négatité.

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The God Delusion

21:02 04 Mar 2007

I finished reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion this morning. I found it clearly written and well-argued. I certainly haven’t seen anything from his critics that appears to refute his arguments, although I wonder how many of them have actually read his entire book.

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Belief and Rationality/Irrationality

22:50 03 Mar 2007

Do people have rational reasons for believing things that are irrational?

For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll define “irrational beliefs” as “belief in things that are demonstrably untrue”. For example, the belief that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. I regard this as demonstrably false because it’s either untrue, or almost everything we understand about the physical laws of the universe goes out the window.

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Reading Sartre

23:13 13 Feb 2007. Updated: 02:24 17 Feb 2007

It’s been a little over a year since Seth and I started reading Sartre’s Essays in Existentialism. We haven’t met quite every week, but probably haven’t missed more than six or so sessions.

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What’s Important

22:28 29 Jan 2007

A few years ago, in discussion with friends, I came up with a list of the things that are important to me. Not physical things, more like the “high concepts” I consider to be of paramount importance.

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Enthusiasm and Verve Inspired by… Beckett?

00:29 13 Jan 2007

My friend Lev and I went to see three short Beckett plays this evening, by Custom Made Theatre. Beckett being Beckett, they were dismal, bleak, and absurd.

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‘Atheist Fundamentalism’

23:53 15 Dec 2006. Updated: 02:24 16 Dec 2006

I read a hostile review of The Root of All Evil, Richard Dawkins’ documentary, on the liberal website Alternet.org today.

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Work Versus Play

23:59 27 Nov 2006

What separates the two? The question has some hidden depths—especially after reading Play Money last weekend, which details the world of trading virtual assets in MMORPGs. Also, I spent my weekend happily fascinated by JavaScript challenges that a lot of people would have difficulty distinguishing from the “normal work” of a web developer.

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Sartre on Psychological Determinism

10:08 26 Sep 2006

I love this line:

Psychological determinism, before being a theoretical conception, is first an attitude of excuse, or if you prefer, the basis of all attitudes of excuse.
—p137, Jean-Paul Sartre, Essays in Existentialism, Kensington, New York 1993

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Doing Every Day

17:15 30 Aug 2006

A few years ago I read a book called Undoing Yourself. I probably need to re-read it, and remember that it had a bunch of suggestions for “reprogramming” the self (or structuring your consciousness, if you want to put it another way) that I felt were probably useful (but didn’t get around to actually applying). It also had an intro by Robert Anton Wilson in which he stressed that if you wanted to be good at something, you should do it every day.

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On Happiness

09:25 24 Aug 2006

Happiness is a topic I consider relatively often. Most of my musings about flow, structured consciousness, focus, and so on have the implicit goal of increasing happiness. Over the last few months I’ve come across a few articles on the subject that interested me.

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Trivial Free Will

16:53 20 Aug 2006

I believe in free will, and the ability of the individual to make free choices. However, I do think that there are obvious limitations on this ability, and do not believe in what I term “trivial” free will.

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