June 30, 2006

New Transformers Teaser

It shows so little that it's hard, even for a uber Cybertronian geek such as myself, to get too excited about, but I still felt that little jolt of excitement when I saw the Autobot insignia.

June 29, 2006

Sympathy for the she-devil

Salon has an intriguing review of The Devil Wears Prada. I never considered reading the novel, and I still have no interest in it, but I may end up seeing the film based on this.

Notably, the review is written by Rebecca Traister, not Stephanie Zacharek (whose reviews I normally can't stand).

June 28, 2006

Oh yeah, Superman

20 minutes of commercials at the beginnning + over two hour running time + late show = I'm not entirely awake today, so I remembered I saw this only just now.

Anyway, Superman Returns review, below the fold. There may or may not be spoilers, so read at your own risk.

I've never been all that interested in Superman, at least compared to other DC headliners like Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash (and, more recently, Green Arrow). This is a genre in which the dramatic tension is usually driven by the physical danger that threatens the protagonist, and the only thing that really threatens Superman is kryptonite. So bad Superman stories are pretty much forced into a set mold: Lex Luthor (or whoever) acquires kryptonite and threatens Lois Lane; Superman rescues Lois, goes back to fight Lex, is weakened by kryptonite; Lois gets Superman away from kryptonite; Superman, with strength recovered, grabs doomsday thingy and throws it into space.

The last 60 minutes or so of Superman Returns falls into this formula, so the denounement borders on the tedious. The pacing is also weird -- we get fifty minutes of increasingly dire threats, and then Superman literally just grabs a huge chunk of kryptonite with his bear hands and flies it up into space so the movie can end on time. I suppose it's better than him killing Lex, but it was still abrupt and dissatisfying.

But between the tedious final hour and slow-paced opening thirty minutes, there is a strong section that attempts to explore the Angst of Superman. Superman is almost unique among DC characters in that the blue and red suit is who he really is; Hal Jordan is not his ring, and Barry Allen is not the red spandex outfit, but Clark Kent is the disguise Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton, wears to get by in this world of fragile, helpless humans. As Superman -- and particularly in the context of this film, where he seems to be the only metahuman on Earth -- he has no friends, just an adoring public who regard him as a celebrity and savior, not a person. Lois Lane is probably the closest Superman has to a real friend, but even then there is a vast gap.

It is this remarkable isolation and loneliness, and Superman's desire to surmount it and genuinely connect with the people around him, that make up much of the middle third of the film, and I was most excited when I realized what the filmmakers were up to. But, too soon, Lois is turned back into the helpless maiden tied to the train tracks, and Superman is reduced to flying around, catching heavy things and blowing shit up with his heat vision.

The acting is pretty forgettable. Kevin Spacey manages Lex's mood swings and megalomania quite nicely, though he never quite gives the scenery the thorough chewing you'd expect from the world's foremost evil genius. Kate Bosworth is rather bad -- her Lois Lane is about as aggressive a journalist as Barbara Walters. Still, she's a hell of a lot better than Halle Berry's miserable Storm. I have mixed feelings about Brandon Routh's Superman, though his Clark Kent was wonderfully awkward and self-conscious. Both Bosworth (23) and Routh (26) are way too young for their roles, and it makes for some incongruous moments. But I suppose that's the price we pay for closeups so tight you can literally count the actors' pores.

All in all, Superman Returns is no Batman Begins, or even quite X-Men, but it's worth the price of a student admission or matinee.

June 27, 2006

Spiders are cool

Well, they are.

How I spent my summer vacation XII

Hobbes, Leviathan, ch 1-6, 10-18

Hobbes' work is most historically notable as the first presentation of an explicit social contract theory of civil society, in which individuals come together from a state of nature, sacrificing some natural freedoms in exchange for security and comfort. For our purposes, Hobbes is also notable as a Modern critic of the Scholastics and the epistemology he establishes in the early chapters, before turning to political philosophy proper.

Hobbes is explicitly quite critical of the Scholastics in a number of respects, arguing, for instance, that the metaphysics of matter and form, and the accompanying theory of perception, are unable to give an adequate account of dreams and hallucinations, and thereby inevitably lead to belief in spirits. In the discussions of language and reason, Hobbes also identifies the Scholastics as, essentially, throwing around a bunch of meaningless terms rather than developing rigorous demonstrations to prove their claims. Aristotelean physics is criticised as being anthropocentric, projecting human appetites and desires onto strictly inanimate objects.

By contrast, Hobbes is an early mechanist and empiricist. His entire epistemology reduces to a system of impacts: particles of light bounce from the apple, say, and hit our eye, and the impact causes the nerves to tug on the brain in such a way that we form ideas corresponding to the accidents of the apple. Abstract ideas are simply representations of parts of our sensory experiences using words -- and thus we can have no ideas that do not originate in experience. Note that this implies that we cannot, properly speaking, form the idea of God. The divine is simply posited as a first cause, with no other positive content except as we are gifted with revelation by miracles.

With this framework in place, Hobbes' real project now becomes clear. His method is inspired by geometry: we first give precise definitions of our terms, then reason from those to reach conclusions or 'theorems'. Definitions of complicated terms must be built using simpler ones, and thus a long list of virtues, vices, attitudes, and related states of human beings are defined as passions, ultimately referring to desire and aversion. Most importantly, an object is said to be good, according to Hobbes, if and only if it is an object of desire; and evil, by contrast, if and only if it is said to be an object of aversion. While there will be general agreement -- most everyone will think getting stabbed is evil, because most everyone does not want to get stabbed -- Hobbes' moral theory will never completely eliminate this subjective element; indeed, it will only grow more striking when we consider justice.

The most important emotion for Hobbes is clearly fear. Religion is fear of the supernatural; to show someone respect is to show that you fear them; and, most importantly, the state of nature is a state of living in fear of the unknown, so that the state of nature itself is to be feared over almost anything else in this world.

As mentioned above, Hobbes was the first to deploy a state of nature story to motivate his vision of ideal civil society. This state is described using two famous phrases, as a 'war of all against all' and as 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'; it also says something about Hobbes' state of mind that he refers to the state of nature as 'civil war', Leviathan being written around the time of the English Civil War. Living in the state of nature, with no authority to compell harmony, Hobbes asserts that humans are guided only by the pursuit of their desires and the reatreat from their aversions, and that therefore no notion of justice can be legitimately formulated. While not as graphic as Augustine's indictment of the physical world in City of God, Hobbes spends a fair bit of time chronicling the chaotic savagery and utter horror of life in the state of nature. To escape, we must first develop a theory of natural law and a theory of authority, which in turn requires the notion of a covenant.

The natural laws are maxims that humans come to recognize after reflecting rationally on the chaotic vicissitudes of life in the state of nature. While far too numerous to list here, they mostly just come down to the Golden Rule: peace and order, and thus the first real possibility of satisfying our desires, can only be achieved by doing to others as we would have them do to us and setting aside our self-interest in the name of cooperation. But this cooperation cannot be guaranteed, especially not when we come together in the state of nature; we must each give up our autonomy to a sovereign, who will thereby have the power to enforce compliance with contracts. Compliance with contracts is, incidentally, precisely the way Hobbes defines justice.

It is at this step that things go crazy. Hobbes develops a theory of authority, by which an actor represents an author. This representation is fully legal, in the sense that the actor has the power to bind the author into covenants. The full extent of this representation is only revealed when Hobbes develops it into the theory of the sovereign.

In particular, when a multitude of individuals come together in the state of nature, they can covenant with each other to curtail their autonomy, awarding it to a sovereign Hobbes calls the Leviathan. The Leviathan enjoys total authority over the subjects; chapter 18 consists of an enumeration of rights enjoyed by the sovereign over his subects:
1. The subjects cannot change the form of government.
2. Sovereign power cannot be forfeited (ie, cannot be withdrawn by the subjects).
3. No member of the society can protest the decrees of the sovereign.
4. The sovereign cannot be accused of wrongdoing by the subjects.
5. The sovereign cannot be punished by the subjects.
6. The sovereign is the sole judge of what is necessary for peace and the defence of the society and what the subjects should be taught.
7. The sovereign is solely responsible for establishing laws concerning property and public action.
8. The sovereign has absolute control over the judiciary and arbitrartion.
And on and on. In each case, the argument for this totalitarianism runs something like the following: the sovereign is merely the actor, representing the subjects according to their covenant; hence, whatever the sovereign does to a subject, he does to himself, and in accordance with his own wishes; but, according to the fundamental natural right, it is contrary to reason for someone to wish harm on themselves; thus, it is contrary to reason, ie, impossible, for the subject to be harmed in any way by the sovereign.

Although they are not covered in the reading assignment, Hobbes uses this argument to spectacular effect in other sections of the book. My favourite is the argument for hereditary monarchy, as it is the form of government in which the fortunes of the Leviathan are intimately tied into the fortunes of the society, thereby making it utterly impossible for the sovereign to ever be corrupt.

Total pages read: 1260

Interesting philosophical link: dinosaurs consider the consequences of various epistemological theories for the possibilities of weaponized kissing

Well, that clears everything right up

Note to self: stop using real email address when posting comments on blogs. You're just asking for the internet to vomit things like the following into your inbox.

My Heart-Word Is Irrefutable,
If The Heart Itself Is Heard To Speak
There Is Only Light. Light Is All There Is. All That Is Is Light.

The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light Is Self-Existing (or Transcendental) Being and Self-Radiant (or Inherently Spiritual) Consciousness.

The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light Is Consciousness Itself. The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light Is God, or Truth.

When Light, or God, Is (Apparently) Objectified To Itself, It Appears As The Cosmic Mandala Of all conditional worlds, forms, and beings.

Thus, Light, or God, Utterly Pervades all conditional worlds, forms, and beings. All conditional worlds, forms, and beings Thus Inhere In, Are Lived or Sustained By, Are Not Other Than, and Can Directly Realize A State Of Inherently Perfect Identification With Light, or God.

Light, or God, Is The Literal or Inherent Condition, Substance, Reality, Quality, and Destiny Of all conditional worlds, forms and beings.

Light, or God, Is Never Absolutely Objectified, Nor Does Any Apparent Modification Of Light, or God, As any conditional world, form, or being, qualify or Really limit The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light, or God.

Even Though Light, or God, May Appear To Be Objectively Modified and limited As and By conditional worlds, forms, and beings, The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light, or God, Remains As Always Already Free and Self-Existing Being, Inherent and Undiminished Consciousness, and Self-Radiant Love-Bliss.

Therefore, It Is Not Necessary (or Required, or Even Possible) For The Cosmic Mandala, or any conditional world, form, or being, To Evolve (as itself) Perfectly, or To Fulfill itself Perfectly, or To Be (conditionally) Utterly Purified, or To Be (conditionally) Utterly Released, or Even To Come (conditionally) To A Final End As A Prerequisite For Light, God, or The Real Condition To Be Realized.

For Light, God, or The Real Condition To Be Realized, It Is Only Necessary For The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light, God, or The Real Condition To Be Realized.

The Way Of Realization Of Light, God, The Real Condition, Truth, Love-Bliss, or Happiness Is Not The Search For Fulfillment or Release In The Context Of Apparently Objectified Light, or The Search For Fulfillment or Release In God (As The Somehow and Ultimate Objective Context Of The Cosmic Mandala, or Of all conditional worlds, forms, and beings), but It Is To Identify With The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light, or Of God (Which Is Always Already Most Prior To The Cosmic Mandala, or all conditional worlds, forms, and beings).

The Ultimate (and, Necessarily, Most Prior) Source (or Source-Condition) Of any (and every) conditional world (and Of any, and every, conditional form and conditional being, or body-mind, arising in any, and every, conditional world) Is Necessarily (and Perfectly) Subjective To (or One With, and Identical To, The Very Existence, or Very Being, Of) that conditional world, form, being, or body-mind, and Not Ever Objective To it, or Outside it, or Separate From it, or Related To it, or (In Any Manner) "Different" From it.

Indeed, the phenomenal or conditional worlds (and all the phenomenal or conditional beings that appear within the phenomenal or conditional worlds) Are Not (themselves) merely physical worlds (or physical beings). Rather, As Direct Observation Proves, all phenomenal or conditional worlds (and all phenomenal or conditional beings) Are (themselves) Always and Entirely psycho-physical worlds (and psycho-physical beings).

Therefore, Necessarily, The Source-Condition Of all phenomenal or conditional worlds (and Of all phenomenal or conditional beings) Cannot Be merely physical, or material, or Even Merely A Non-Conscious (and, Therefore, non-psychic) Energy. Rather, The Source-Condition Of all phenomenal or conditional worlds (and Of all phenomenal or conditional beings) Must (Necessarily) Be That Which Is At The Root Of all psychic (or mental, and subtle) conditions, and all causal (or Root-egoic) conditions, and Even all psycho-physical conditions (Including all Apparently merely physical, or gross, conditions).

Therefore, The Source-Condition Of all phenomenal or conditional worlds (and Of all phenomenal or conditional beings) Must (Necessarily) Be Characteristically and Perfectly Of A Subjective (and Not Merely Objective) Kind, and It Must (Necessarily) Be Of The Nature Of Consciousness (Which Is At The Root Of all psychic, mental, subtle, and causal conditions or states), and It Must Also (Necessarily) Be Otherwise Manifest (or Apparent) As Irreducible Energy (or The Primal Substance-Radiance Of Which alll psycho-physical phenomena, Including all Apparently merely physical, or gross, phenomena, Are Composed).

Therefore, Consciousness Itself, Self-Existing and Self-Radiant, Is, Necessarily, The Source-Condition Of all phenomenal or conditional worlds (and Of all phenomenal or conditional beings).Consciousness (Itself) Is That To Which and In Which all conditional worlds, forms, thoughts, and beings, including one's own Apparently Separate self, Are arising As Apparent Modifications Of Objectified Light, or God.

Consciousness (Itself) Is Light (or God) Itself.Consciousness (Itself) Is The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light, Spirit-Energy, or God.

Consciousness (Itself) Is The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of The Cosmic Mandala and Of all conditional worlds, forms, thoughts, and beings, including one's own Apparently Separate self.Consciousness (Itself) Is Self-Radiant Love-Bliss, Happiness, or Unqualified Being.

Consciousness (Itself) Is That In Which or As Which any being Always Already Stands.

Therefore, To Identify With Consciousness (Itself) Is Also To Realize Inherently Perfect Freedom, Eternal Being, and Happiness Itself (or Inherent Love-Bliss, Which Is The Self-Existing and Self-Radiant Nature Of Light, Spirit-Energy, or God).Whatever arises conditionally or objectively Is Only An Apparent, Temporary, and Illusory Modification Of Light, Spirit-Energy, Love-Bliss, or God.

Whatever May Appear To Be The Case objectively (Even In such a subtle form as thought) Is Only Light, or God, Appearing To Be Objectified (or Appearing As conditions), but It Is Thus Appearing Only To Itself and As Itself.

If, In The Context Of any objective event or condition (including thought), The Consciousness To Which and In Which that event or condition Is arising Is "Located" (As The Native and Love-Blissful Feeling Of Being Itself), Then that objective event or condition Is Inherently (and Inherently Perfectly) Transcended In The Perfectly Subjective Nature or Reality or Condition Of Light, or God.

Consciousness (or Light, or God) Is Love-Bliss, Always Already Free, Never Changing.

All Modifications (all changes or conditions) Are Merely Apparent, or Illusory.Apparent Modifications (or changes, or conditions) Do Not Change Consciousness, Light, or God, Except Apparently, From the point of view Of The Modification (or the condition, or the conditional being) Itself.

All conditional Modifications Are Illusory or Non-Binding appearances In The Objective (or Apparently Objectified) Aspect, Nature, Appearance, or Illusion Of Light, or God.

To Identify With Consciousness (Prior To world, form, mind, others, and conditional self) Is To Realize The Perfectly Subjective or Most Prior Nature and Reality Of Light, or God.

The phenomenal or conditional worlds Are Neither Necessary Nor Binding. The arising Of phenomenal or conditional Existence Carries With it No Command or Implication Of Necessary Involvement On The Part Of The Perfectly Subjective Being.

You Are Always Already Free To Identify With The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Reality and Thus To Transcend objective or conditional Existence Itself, As Well As Any Apparent Implication, Tendency, or Need For Involvement In It.

In The Realization Of The Perfectly Subjective Nature Of Light, or God, all Apparent or objective Light-changes Are Inherently (Divinely) Recognized and Transcended In The Free Love-Bliss Of Light Itself, or God.

To Realize Light (or To Be Literally En-Lightened), or To Realize God (or To Be One With The Only One Who Is), Is To Be Transcendental (and Inherently Spiritual) Divine Consciousness, Which Is Consciousness Itself, and Which Is Light Itself, or Transcendental (and Inherently Spiritual) Divine Light, The Substance Of Existence, The Real Condition Of Existence, Which Is Happiness Itself, or "Bright" Love-Bliss Itself.

Liberation Through God-Realization (or Direct and Necessarily selfTranscending Identification With The Perfectly Subjective Truth or Inherently Perfect Condition Of Existence) Is Senior To (and Makes Obsolete) Any Effort Of the conditional self To Be Lawful, Purified, Evolved, Fulfilled, Ended, or Released.

This Is The Seed-Essence and Import Of Religion and Esotericism.This Is The Seed-Essence Of My Teaching Argument and The Seed-Essence Of The Way Of The Heart.

The Persuasiveness Of This Argument Does Not Rest On arbitrary, historical, or controversial systems of belief and conditional proof.

The Persuasiveness Of This Argument Rests On An Understanding Of Light Itself.

This Argument Is Persuasive Because It Rests On The Obvious, and It Is, Therefore, Irrefutable.The Truth Of This Argument Is Self-Evident.

The Efficacy Of This Argument Can Be Demonstrated Only By The Direct and Real (and, Ultimately, Inherently Perfect) Process (or Heart-Way) Of Divine Self-Realization Itself (Which Process or Way Is The Heart-Demonstration Of Truth Itself).

The Proof Of This Argument Is Consciousness Itself (Realized As It Is).

June 26, 2006

A Few Related Things

First, it looks like the horribly underrated Futurama is making a comeback, with 13 new episodes to air on Comedy Central in 2008. Evidently they have the whole cast back too, which is awesome. Really, I didn't appreciate Futurama until I started watching a lot of reruns on Adult Swim. If you too weren't pulled in by the show the first time around, do yourself a favor and tune in to Adult Swim and catch up a bit. The show rocks.

Here's a teaser for Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Evidently Al's daughter is the only female writer on Futurama, which makes him even cooler. Much like the movie itself, this video makes Al Gore look super cool

I've seen An Inconvenient Truth twice now, and I'll probably see it a third time before it leaves theaters. Yeah, that's a lot. It's hard to argue that any movie is *that good*. With this one it's that I know that if I don't go with people they probably won't go at all, and I think it's important for people to see it.

I won't go into the science of the movie, partly because you all probably know it and partly because the movie itself doesn't focus heavily on the science. This movie is about repackaging the arguments you've heard before into something both more entertaining and more relatable. People that have been following Al Gore since 2000 already know that he's reinvented himself, but non-politics nerds will probably be surprised at how *not* Al The Robot he is these days. Truthfully, he probably never was as wooden as he seemed, but just had some really bad people managing his image.

Like I say though, this movie isn't going to shock most (especially young) people with the realization that global warming happens. We've heard that all before. What will shock you is the evidence that you might not have seen before. A lake that used to be among the largest in the world, almost completely disappeared. Glaciers that have been around for tens of thousands of years almost completely gone. Softening this up are several personal anecdotes from Al that drive home that this is a moral issue, not merely one of science.

All I really want to impress on you is that this is not just an informative documentary, it's an entertaining movie. It's funny, it's touching, it's shocking. Global Warming happens and is happening and everyone should go see this movie.

Young Robin! Not much of a story here other than this was one of the first pictures we took at Wizard World and we hadn't yet built up the courage to jump in the picture with them. It probably would have been for the best if we had never found said courage. Also, I'm not sure Batman would approve of the long hair. It would almost surely get in the way during a fight. Plus, long hair is for hippies, and Batman hates the hippies. Posted by Picasa

New Joe Fridays And Watchmen News!

A few days late in posting this, but still packed full of interesting Marvel-related news.

Zach Snyder has been tapped to direct an adaptation of Watchmen, though who knows if this will stick. The movie adaptation has had more studios and directors attached than Superman Returns.

How I spent my summer vacation XI

Wow ... two weeks to the day since the last edition. In that time, I finished the Aquinas and Scotus (more or less). I won't be blogging those. Instead, we move on to the early Moderns. Descartes went quick, and I'm already more than halfway through Hobbes; but you'll have to wait for him until tomorrow-ish (Wednesday if grading my algebra class' exams take too long).

Descartes, Meditations on first philosophy, with selections from the Objections and replies

After trudging through hundreds of pages of incredibly technical and esoteric scholastic metaphysics, I can finally understand why his approach to philosophy took Europe by storm. Gone are the abstruse foundations of matter/form and potential/act. Gone are the endless concerns about the ontological status of 'whiteness'. And, characteristically of Modern philosophy, gone is the notion that philosophy is, roughly speaking, the remainder when revelation is subtracted from theology. Thus, in Descartes, we see an approach to philosophy that is accessible to all intellectuals -- not just those who have spent a decade immersing themselves in scholastic Aristotelean theology.

The Meditations is familiar to just about anyone who has studied at least a little philosophy in college. This is probably due to its tight, precise, and especially nontechnical, presentation, making it far more accessible to your average first-year undergrad than most any other Great Book in the Western philosophical canon. In addition, the six individual meditations are each just about the perfect length for a single 50-minute lecture, meaning a two-week section on Descartes practically writes itself. Descartes even presents an outline in the introduction, explaining the content of each meditation.

The first meditation introduces Descartes' method of doubt. This takes place over three stages, each of which consists of a basis for doubt and consequent doubt over certain beliefs. First, the meditator realizes that the (external) senses are unreliable: towers might appear round far away but square close up, or a stick might appear bent when partially submerged in a pool of water, while remaining straight to the touch. Thus, we come to doubt our particular beliefs about the sensible world -- 'The tower is round', 'The stick is bent', etc. Second, the meditator considers dreams and hallucinations, during which I might falsely believe I am performing certain actions or my body is in certain physical states -- 'I am running' is, strictly speaking, false when I am dreaming, and yet I could easily believe it at the time. So now we must doubt the veracity of our proprioception or kinaesthetic experiences. Third and finally, we have the famous evil genius or evil demon hypothesis. This is the possibility of The Matrix: that I am so thoroughly immersed in the illusion cast over me by some malicious entity that (seemingly) every other belief I have retained thus far is suspect. I cannot be sure that I have not been so deceived that I am wrong in affirming '2+2=4' or that my beliefs about metaphysical simples such as time and extension are fundamentally mistaken. Along with the possibility of an evil genius comes doubt about religious belief as well -- how do we justify at least the fundamental theistic belief in a loving, personal God, if we admit the possibility that the omnipotent being is instead a Devil?

The resolution of all these doubts is the project of the remaining five meditations. The second is an attempt to secure an infinitesimal foothold for certainty amidst all this doubt: even if I have been thoroughly deceived in every other respect, I still know that I, a thinking thing, exist; otherwise, how could I be deceived? Descartes goes on to argue that I know myself, as a thinking thing, more reliably than I even know my own body.
1. Nothing is known per se except by the intellect.
2. Thus, my mind (that is, the ground for my intellectual power) is the easiest thing for me to know.
3. Thus, this knowledge is the most evidence and reliable that I can have.
4. Thus, my mind exists.
I'm not sure if 4 is exactly Descartes' conclusion, but it certainly seems close. 1 is an important claim, and Descartes defends it by considering our knowledge of a piece of wax. We claim to know the wax, even though all of its sensible qualities can easily be altered by simply moving it from a cold part of the room to near the fire; but then none of our per se knowledge is of its sensible qualities, so we can only know it per se via the intellect. By contrast, virtually every other Modern philosopher would conclude that we do not know the piece of wax per se.

In the third meditation, the meditator develops his first argument for the existence of God. Before this, however, we need an essential Cartesian doctrine: clear and distinct perceptions are necessary/sufficient for certain knowledge. There are two things to note here. First, 'perceptions' includes both sensible perceptions and the possesssion of nonempirical ideas; we will see arguments later that our idea of God is such a clear and distinct perceptions, yet it is obviously nonempirical. Second, it is not clear whether the meditator is taking this principle to give a necessary or sufficient condition, and this is a very important difference. In any case, with this principle in place, the meditator's plan is clear: we shall establish that we have a clear and distinct perception of God, and that this justifies at least our most fundamental beliefs about the external world of sensible objects.

The 'perfections' argument for the existence of God runs as follows (this is an extremely loose paraphrase):
1. The most perfect idea is my idea of God.
2. Effects must have a cause at least as perfect as they are.
3. Thus, my idea of God has a cause at least as perfect as its content.
4. Thus, this cause must be greater than me.
5. Thus, either this cause is God, or we can run through the argument again for it.
6. Thus, God exists.

Now that we know God exists, we realize that the idea of God, as the idea of an actual infinity, must be epistemologically prior to my knowledge of finiteness, ie, in order to know any limitation or defect, I must first know the perfect exemplar. Hence, the idea of God is even more clear and distinct than my idea of my own mind.

The fourth meditation defends the claim that God is no deceiver and gives an account of error. God is no deceiver simply because deception is no perfection, but a privation of the virtues of honesty and respect; but my idea of God is the idea of that being who has all perfections. The discussion of error is framed as a sort of problem of evil: if I am so prone to error, I must be quite defective as a knower; but why would a perfect creator create such a defective being? The meditator's solution is that the use of free will is one of the essential reasons for our existence; but the nature of this will means it is necessary unlimited, while as creatures our intellects are necessarily finite. The will thus exceeds our ability to understand, and we thereby come to make mistakes through a lack of prudence.

The fifth meditation vindicates the knowledge that was doubted in the third stage of the first meditation, including mathematics and rationalist metaphysics: we have clear and distinct ideas of all these concepts, so our knowledge of them is certain. The second argument for the existence of God takes up much of this meditation; it amounts to several unconvincing assertions that we have clear and distinct perceptions of God's existence, and that this is only possible if God, in fact, exists.

The sixth meditation deals with the remaining two stages of doubt. First we have a statement of Cartesian dualism, that while I have a body (because I have a clear and distinct perception of having a body), I am essentially only mind, and separable from my body (because I have a clear and distinct perception that the two are distinct). Second we justify our belief in an external material world -- but this is a slightly more sophisticated argument than simply appealing to clear and distinct perceptions, because the meditator certainly doesn't want to say that we have such perceptions in the case of dreams and hallucinations.
1. I have been inclined by God to believe that my sense-perceptions are caused by material things.
2. God is no deceiver.
3. Therefore, my belief in 1 is accurate.

The selections from the Objections and replies serve mostly just to clarify Descartes' already rather clear positions. There's some discussion of 'analytic' versus 'synthetic' presentations of arguments and the relation between necessary truths and God, but we'll pass over those for now. One important objection (because it came up on one of the previous exams) comes from Arnauld, a theologian and one of the first proponents of Cartesianism:

we can be certain that God exists only because we clearly and evidently perceive this fact. Therefore, before we are certain that God exists, we ought to be certain that whatever we clearly and evidently perceive is true.

Thus, Arnauld says, Descartes' argument is "viciously circular": we can only be certain we have a clear and distinct idea of God when we already know God exists, and thus cannot (as in the fifth meditation) use this perception to argue for God's existence. Descartes' response seems to be a non sequitur, amounting to a distinction between clearly perceiving something now and recalling later that we did clearly perceive it at that time. A better response would be to hope that, somewhere in the rather obscure fifth meditation (the only part of the book that is obscure), Descartes has given independent grounds for maintaining that the idea of God is had clearly and distinctly.

Total pages read: 1124

Interesting philosophical link: Can theism answer The Deepest Questions?

$20 says this court decides the EPA doesn't have to protect the environment

Chron: Supreme Court to Hear Bush Environment Case

June 25, 2006

Resistance is futile

My Little Golden Book About Zogg

I'm not dead yet

Emphasis on that 'yet'. Seriously, though, I've just gotten a bit bogged down. Aquinas and Scotus, you see, are some damn esoteric thinkers, and I ended up doing precisely what I had earlier decided I would not do: read and re-read both primary and secondary texts endlessly, running in mental circles and mostly just getting myself incredibly frustrated.

But then, after a week in which I'd only covered about 200 pages of primary texts, I finally woke up and moved on. Descartes will be forthcoming, and right now I'm working on Hobbes. In the meantime, Astarte reads The Escapist, too, and this Chron reporter is riding across the country. On a bike. That is, a bicycle. That is, human-powered; him-powered, to be specific. Not even I am that crazy -- yet.

June 24, 2006

Random Ten Times A Freakin' Billion

Uh, do you have mp3s? Load 'em up eh! Set that thing to random and let us know what the first ten are!

(song - artist)
1. Battery - Metallica
2. For My People - DJ Z-Trip
3. Carry On My Wayward Son - Kansas
4. A Fifth Of Bethoven - Walter Murphey
5. Diamonds - Kanye West
6. The Spirit Carries On - Dream Theater
7. Gimmie Shelter - The Rolling Stones
8. I'm Gonna Kill U - Juggaknots
9. Cinder & Smoke - Iron and Wine
10. Crush - Anthrax

Whoo! Too much to drink!

D2: The Mighty Ducks

So yeah, it's 2am in the morning, and I've had a few drinks. Some people drunk dial...not me. I watch crap movies. Tonight we have the sequel to The Mighty Ducks on TBS and LA Confidential on HBO. The major theme of D2 is finding the joy in difficult tasks, but the scene that always resonated with me is where the US Junior Hockey Team plays a bunch of inner city amateurs. Disregard the rest of the film. It's saccharine dreck and everyone knows it. What bothers me is the scene where the nearly universal white team (minus the Spanish player) is thoroughly smashed by the completely black inner city squad, only to grab the youngest black player from their opposition and dismiss the rest. I've never been able to properly catagorize my discomfort, but it's definitely there. Gah. Perhaps I should keep this for myself. Oh Banks, you should have told people about your wrist injury sooner. You idiot.

Ok, Wayne Gretsky just showed up. It's hard to argue with the great one, no?

Edit: Alright Kenny Wu! 2 Minutes Well Worth It!

June 21, 2006

Jay being rude to Boba Fett. Jay seems to think he's successfully snuck up on Boba. I'm here to tell you all that, despite appearances, that is *not* the case. We're talking about Boba Fett here, one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy. You see that pointy thing coming up over Boba's shoulder? That's a missile. That's right, Boba Fett get's out of the shower, puts a missile on his back and carries it around all day, just in case. That's tough. Yeah, Boba knows what's going on. Boba always knows what's going on. Jay is one lucky bastard, that's for sure. Posted by Picasa

Hot Guitar Hero 2 Info

Tycho's latest post sent me over here, where they continually update the post with new confirmed info and rumors about the upcoming Guitar Hero 2. There are some really exciting rumored songs in there...

Game Criticism & Etc.

First, the Etc.: I've really fallen in love with the New Joe Fridays collumn at Newsarama. Every week they have a nice long chat with Marvel Comics EIC, Joe Quesada about all things Marvel now and in the future. He's got lots of interesting stuff to say this week about the big reveal from Civil War #2, so if you don't want to know about (spoiler! highlight to see) Spiderman unmasking himself in front of the press to show his support for the Super Hero Registration Act (end spoiler), you shouldn't go there until you've read the issue.

Game Criticism:

Chuck Klosterman doesn't think there is any real video game criticism out there and also thinks there are fundamental properties of video games that make criticism difficult if not impossible. When I first came across this story I immediately thought of The Escapist, which I think borders rather closely on real game criticism. Their latest issue, "Girl Power 2", is full of interesting stuff, particularly "Asexuality Actually", and I recommend the issue highly and not just for video game players. In the thread where people were discussing the Klosterman article, someone mentioned this site as having serious game criticism. Incidentally, though there were a few shining lights of intelligence in the thread discussing the Klosterman article, but, as is often the case, there was a critical mass of idiocy. The number of people that though criticism referred to saying bad things about a game was shocking.

June 19, 2006


NBC has a show called Heroes coming out this fall. Now, as with any story told about characters with extranormal powers, it's going to be really easy for the show to get too focussed on the powers themselves and not the people behind them, but from the preview at the link it looks like they're coming at this thing from the right angle. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for this one.

I ran into this girl taking pictures of some of the Star Wars-themed cosplay people, some of which you can see behind her. She was, as you can see, somewhat underdressed for a Batgirl, but despite having her mask pushed up she was obviously in costume. When I asked her if I could take her picture (I was, afterall, collectin' 'em all) she freaked out, uh, in a good way. Evidently nobody was taking her picture, and as I've mentioned a primary reason for dressing up at these things is to have your picture taken, so she was super excited. So excited, in fact, that right after I took this picture she ran up to me and said, "You get a hug now!" as she hugged me.

After hearing this part of the story several people have alluded that I should have asked her out. Keep in mind that these people are seeing the version of the picture on my computer, which is much larger and more detailed than what you're seeing now. I've always been a bit skeptical the masks worn in comics, similar to what she's wearing here, but nobody seems to notice that she's sixteen years old, no more than a few more at maximum. She was a sweet kid though and this is easily one of my favorite pictures because more than so many people at Wizard World, she seemed to really be having a good time. Plus, unlike so many people at Wizard World, she didn't smell of cheese steaks and B.O.....Posted by Picasa

June 17, 2006

Hugo Schwyzer: Saving the little one: a note on starlings and tikkun olam


I am convinced that God places us in situations where we are given the opportunity to choose whether or not we will help the most vulnerable among us. Whether it is with the homeless or with the helpless, each encounter offers us a stark choice: will we be agents of God's mercy or not?

(For the context, follow the link.)

This reminds me of (or is simply a statement of) one answer to the problem of evil: God allows the existence of seemingly pointless suffering for the greater good of us freely choosing beneficent acts.

But consider this from the perspective of the injured starling or the tsunami victim. These poor people (taking the starling to be a person) are suffering, possibly or even probably dying, for no other reason than that the comfortable and privileged thereby have an opportunity to show how great they are. How could a God who freely uses sapient beings in this way be considered compassionate and loving?

June 16, 2006

Boom Chkiiiish

Thanks to Andy, I have this awesome link to a kid doing some beat boxing. It's not what I expected, but totally sweet.

Andy also provides us with this awesomeness. Andy says Jamie Kennedy isn't funny, but I disagree.

Let's Hear It For DJ Random Ten!

That time of the week again folks. Let's celebrate the beautiful weather that we're supposed to get (here in New Jersey at least) with ten songs taken completely at random from our mp3 collections. Here's mine:

(Song - Artist)
1. I'm Wrong About Everything - John Wesley Harding
2. Attitude - Metallica
3. Opiate - Tool
4. Sun Don't Shine - Freeway
5. The Flame Still Burns - Strange Fruit
6. Big Pappa - The Notorious B.I.G.
7. Number Two - The Pernice Brothers
8. 2 More Dead - RJD2
9. The Cross - Nas
10. Como Fue - Beny Moré

Wow, just an awesome list this week. This bodes well for me!

I noticed Batgirl here while I was running off to get a comic signed and was bummed that I probably wouldn't be able to find her later. Lo and behold, we later wandered back over to this area and found that not only had she remained in the exact same place, but had gathered her superheroic friends to foil some evil happenings in Gotham. It must have been a slow day in Metropolis. Not only did Supes make it all the way over to Bat Country, he was extra meticulous this morning with his spit curl. Robin, you'll note, is wearing his very recently updated costume, which loses the yellow and green from the color scheme. I actually took a few different pictures of this group and this is the best of the bunch. Oddly enough, Robin *never* looked at me and Superman *always* looked at me. You don't want the Man of Steel as your stalker is all I'm saying. Posted by Picasa

Evolution Of Dance

This video has been making the rounds. I have to say, though, that really it made me want to watch Thriller. Thriller! Also, the Smooth Criminal video from Moonwalker. Remember Moonwalker the game?

June 15, 2006

As I mentioned before, there was only one person at the show that didn't want to have her picture taken (unless you paid her). This woman, however, was the only person that I got a picture of that wasn't enthusiastic about it. Who knows, maybe she had had a million pictures taken already and was tired of it. Whatever the reason, for acting put out by having to pose oh so minimally for my picture I've mentally dropped her to the Rancor Pit several times. If you don't give a rancor something to do they chew up the furniture. Posted by Picasa

Videos And Stuff

Here's a video of Gnarls Barkley performing "Crazy" at the MTV Movie Awards, with the whole band dressed in Star Wars gear. Awesome.

Ever try to play Dragon's Lair in an arcade way back when and get annoyed because it was so touchy about the controls? Here's a video of the whole game start to finish. It only takes ten minutes to beat that game? What a rip!

Evidently the possibility of more games in the mould of "Guitar Hero" is "very very likely".

Finally, we have an article about superheroes and their religions. There's not much there, but it's interesting.

Watch the weasel words


A growing understanding of human genetics is prompting fresh consideration of how much control people have over who they are and how they act. The recent discoveries include genes that seem to influence whether an individual is fat, has a gift for dance or will be addicted to cigarettes.

My emphasis.

Being medically overweight, physically agile and graceful, and addicted to cigarettes are not actions. Certain actions may contribute (eg, regularly eating 4,000 calories a day instead of 2,000), but these are all descriptions of one's body. This applies equally to fearlessness, predilections for certain diseases and disorders, and all the other examples the article gives. This research may show that we have less control over the state of our body (including our sympathetic nervous system) than previously thought, but it does not show that we do not have free will and our actions are determined by the state of our bodies.

June 13, 2006


Microsoft's Xbox 360 Campaign won an ADDY Award, specifically for this ad. I'm also partial to the one where people are playing gun fight, which evidently was banned in the UK.

You Tube has some awesome videos on there, including videos of super ultimate game endings. I know a few people that are never going to finish Final Fantasy X-2 and who might want to check that out.

Here's an interesting article on incorporating Game Theory into video game design.

Jamie and three attractive women who were giving out information for god knows what. There weren't a lot of what I would call "booth babes" at the show. As far as I can remember, there were just these ladies, the ones at the Spike TV booth/fake apartment (I have no idea why they built a fake apartment. It was elevated above the show floor and though nobody could see into it, it didn't look like anyone was even in there), and that one lady that wouldn't let me take her picture unless I paid her. I've decided that she feared the loss of her soul to my camera and decided that fair compensation was in order. Anyway, there's Pimp Jamie in all his glory! Posted by Picasa

June 12, 2006

How I spent my summer vacation X

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles I, ch 1-15, 21-2, 28-35

The introductory chapters to this Summa make it sound like a manual of apologetics: Aquinas talks about using reason to argue against pagans and Muslims. But the actual content, especially in our selection, seems to be Christian rationalist theology (that is, rationalist and a priori reconstructions of aspects of Christian doctrine). We start off with the existence of God, and then in the later chapters Aquinas criticizes Maimonides' negative theology.

The argument for the existence of God is straight out of Aristotle's Metaphysics: God, the first cause and unmoved mover, must exist so that no causal chain suffers an infinite regress. As a prelude, Aquinas criticizes Anselm's ontological argument, arguing that the reductio step only works if we assume that than which nothing greater can be thought exists -- without this presupposition, he says, there is no contradiction.

Aquinas' answer to negative theology is a theory of analogy. God has all perfections, but as effects of actions rather than of essence; creatures have these perfections by analogy with God. For example, a human is said to be good, but of course (from the Christian perspective), pales in comparison with God's goodness: the human has these perfections only by analogy to God. But we know divine goodness only as divine effect rather than divine essence, and we know it only after we know mortal goodness. Thus, God is metaphysically prior but epistemically posterior. Furthermore, this does not contradict simplicity because God's power (which is identical with God's essence and existence) is the one underlying cause of all the diverse effects we come to know in this life; Aquinas compares it to the sun's light, heat, and power to dry wet things, which are all due to one underlying power, and which fire possesses by analogy with it.

Aquinas, Treatise on happiness (Summa theologiae I-II) q. 1-5

This selection covers much the same ground Augustine did in the reading from City of God, and reaches much the same conclusions. Aquinas, however, proceeds much more systematically, and without going off on long tangents about how much this life sucks. Like the rest of the Summa theologiae, it consists of a series of 'questions', which in turn are subdivided into 'articles'. The articles themselves are highly structured, and Aquinas' method is essentially refutation (though sometimes this makes the presentation awkward): several objections to his position are given, then he presents his own, general refutation, and finishes by applying it to those particular objections.

All five of these questions deal with happiness, in the sense of Aristotle's eudaimonia. The first question argues that there is one, definite 'ultimate end' for humans, 'the most complete good'. The second explores a number of possibilities for this good, including wealth, fame, power, and pleasure; eventually, Aquinas argues that it cannot consist in any 'created good', meaning humans can only enjoy happiness by God's grace, and that this happiness must, in fact, be God's grace. This is explored further, and at the end of question three Aquinas argues that true happiness can be nothing other than 'vision' of the 'divine essence' -- a full and complete knowledge of God that amounts to some sort of intellectual union with God. All other goods are, at best, bad approximations of this one true and complete good. Naturally, details about what exactly this is are a little vague. Questions four and five both deal with the conditions by which this happiness is achieved by humans -- moral rectitude is required, but our fallible, physical body must be replaced by a perfect, eternal, spiritual one, etc.

Aquinas, Treatise on the virtues, (Summa theologiae I-II) q. 55-8

This section of ST is an appropriation of Aristotle's theory of virtues from book 6 of the Nicomachean ethics. This forms an important historical contrast with the treatise on happiness: with its notion of the highest good and ultimate end as superphysical contemplation of the Good (played by God), Happiness was, essentially, Platonic. Virtues, by contrast, is essentially Aristotelean. Today, few philosophers think of Plato and Aristotle as anything other than mutual antagonists; but Aquinas seems to have seen deep compatibilities between the two most famous Ancient philosophers and Mediaeval Christianity.

Aquinas begins by discussing the essence of virtue as a meritorious habit. Virtue is a habit, rather than one particular action, because it covers many individual actions; and, as a habit, virtue is uniquely meritorious because it is the principle by which we act meritoriously. Question 56 concerns the 'subject of virtue', by which Aquinas means those aspects of the soul which can be considered virtuous (or not, of course). These include the intellect, will, and 'irascible and concupiscible powers' -- powers by which we seek out sources of pleasure and avoid sources of discomfort -- but not 'sense knowing', which seems to be the sort of unsystematized empirical knowledge we have about our surroundings. Virtues of the intellect are called, simply, intellectual virtues, while virtues of the irascible and concupiscible powers (known more simply as the appetites) are moral virtues (the good will is considered a moral virtue). An important equivocation in 'virtue' is clarified here: habits may either merely enable or actually compel us to act virtuously.

This distinction is important because it allows us to distinguish two general families of intellectual virtues. On the one hand is phronesis, which is the virtue of the practical intellect; this is a virtue that compels us to virtuous action. On the other hand, there are three virtues of the speculative intellect -- science, understanding, and wisdom -- none of which compel us to virtuous action, but do enable the good of intellectual contemplation. The order of science, understanding, and wisdom reflects an epistemological hierarchy based on the distinctions outlined in Aristotle's Categories: science is the most specific, while wisdom is the most general knowledge of fundamental metaphysical principles that serves to organize its subdisciplines. Art -- by which Aquinas means both craftwork and the liberal arts -- also has its own sort of intellectual virtue, which is distinguished from phronesis in that art concerns the manufacture of externals (loosely speaking, in the case of manufacturing a mathematical proof), while phronesis concerns one's internal character.

The last question in the assigned reading covers the relationship between the moral and intellectual virtues. While fundamentally distinct, Aquinas argues that the two families are interdependent. First, moral virtue requires that the virtuous action be 'present with' right reason -- that is, it is not enough that I have the outward appearance of behaving virtuously, or that I'm acting the same way as a virtuous exemplar; to be virtuous is to know that the principle for one's actions is virtue itself. (Kant will make a similar point in the second section of the Groundwork.) Then, most of the intellectual virtues are independent of the moral ones (you don't need a good will to be good at math), but phronesis is not. The moral virtues are all concerned with reason being able to control and direct the appetites -- Aquinas uses metaphors of a blacksmith's tools and a driver controlling horses. Without this control, temptation will simply overwhelm any attempts at exercising phronesis.

Aquinas, On being and essence, ch 1-3

This piece, which I only have in excerpts, seems to be the discussion of Aquinas' theory of universals for this reading list. The most notable feature is that Aquinas argues both matter and form must be taken as the essence of a particular individual -- as discussed in the capsule of the Physics, Aristotle argued that only form was an individual's essence. Aquinas' argument is quite straightforward: "essence is what is signified through the definition of a thing, but the definition of natural substances does not contain form alone, but also matter". Chapter 3 discusses determination, individuation, and differentiation of species from genus. Not being extraordinarily familiar with either Aquinas or the mediaeval debates over universals, I find this text quite opaque, but the idea seems to be that matter ('signate matter' in the case of individuals, some other sort of matter in the case of species) individuates/differentiates but does not 'signify' anything above and beyond what is in the higher conceptual orders. That is, Socrates' matter serves to individuate him, but his being human signifies everything about him; similarly, the genus animal signifies everything about the species human, as well as the species donkey, the species dolphin, and so on, while these species are individuated by some non-signated matter. Really, I have no clue.

Total pages read: 945 (Just over 1/3 done! Whoot!)

Interesting philosophical link: Trying to define 'racial essentialism'

How I spent my summer vacation IX

Averroes, from Long commentary on De anima

Averroes is the third and final Muslim philosopher on the reading list. Averroes is best contrasted with his predecessor Avicenna rather than Ghazali; both Averroes and Avicenna were Aristoteleans, while Ghazali was highly critical of the Aristoteleans on religious grounds. Where Averroes and Avicenna differed most noticeably was over the philosophical status of Islam -- though I can't recall how this difference went, and it's not going to be on the exam anyways.

For our purposes, we care only about Averroes' revisions to the Aristotelean understanding of the structure of the intellect. As discussed in the capsule on De anima, Aristotle has a model of cognition on which the intellect functions in almost exactly the same way as the sense organs, passively receiving the 'intelligible' (as opposed to material or sensible) forms.

Averroes, in his commentary, clarifies by positing at least two aspects to the intellect, the agent and material. The material intellect corresponds to the passive sense organs, while the agent intellect actualizes the imaginative forms qua intelligibles so that they can be imposed on the material intellect. That last, rather spectacular, bit is almost verbatim. This is supposed to work something like the sun illuminating an object for sight: the sun actualizes the object qua sensible (in particular, coloured), so that its sensible form can be imposed on the eye.

Things get even more fun when Averroes goes on to argue that the material intellect is numerical identical among all rational beings. That is, we all share the same material intellect. Averroes recognizes, at two distinct places, that this immediately leads to the objection that we have different thoughts. As near as I can tell, Averroes' solution is that

the conjunction of the intelligibles with us human beings takes place through the conjunction of the intelligible forms (and they are the imaginative forms) with us, that is, through that part which is in us in respect to them in some way like a form.

Of course, it's the last clause which is absolutely critical, and which someone (whether Averroes or the translator) has completely garbled. Dumont also has no explanatory notes on this aspect of Averroes' thought. Hyman and Walsh give only a single sentence: "Knowledge becomes particular through phantasms which accompany it in the imagination of everyone who knows." This seems to indicate that the only aspect of one's mind that is numerically distinct from anyone else's mind is the imagination, but I'm not really sure.

Maimonides, from Guide of the perplexed

Like the reading from City of God, I do not consider this philosophy, strictly speaking. Maimonides deals with two issues in these selections: predication of God, and the eternality of the world, and the arguments in both section are primarily theological. Thus, concerning predication, Maimonides argues that it is improper to predicate anything of God other than negations and actions. For example, the sentence 'God exists necessarily' is only legitimate if it is understood as a paraphrase for 'God's non-existence is impossible'; or 'God is incorporeal' must mean 'God is not a body'. On the other hand, 'God is just' is acceptable, even as an affirmative, as it describes an action. Maimonides argues for this based on God's radical simplicity: because of this simplicity, God does not have components for a definition that can be broken down into essential predication; nor can God be 'accessorized' with accidents; nor can God, properly speaking, stand in any relation to creatures, as that would be a category error.

I'm sure Maimonides has some philosophical insights to offer -- the Guide was all about bringing Aristoteleanism and Judaism together -- and he obviously inspired Aquinas (he'll answer Maimonides on this point in the first reading), but it's hard to see how intricate arguments based on God's simplicity have compelling philosophical content for non-theists.

Pages read: 782

Interesting philosophical link: Carnivores on the run!

Who is this dashing hero you say? Don't remember him from any of the comics you read in your youth? Well, neither do I. I'm pretty sure this guy is an original creation. I like to call him the Crimson Goatee, or maybe just The Amazing Doodle for whatever that thing is on his chest. It takes a special type of person to dress up as, say, Robin at an event like this, knowing that they'll look rediculous. It's another level entirely to decide that the pantheon of comic heroes and villains is too limiting and that you therefore need a completely original creation. Huzzah! Posted by Picasa

June 11, 2006

Some analogies

Teaching intelligent design in a biology class is like ...
teaching astrology in a psychology class.
teaching about the four elements and the philosopher's stone in a chemistry class.
teaching occasionalism in a physics class.

In other news, I'm going hiking today. Kryssa, this state of yours better not have bears; I'm so going to come back and haunt you if I get eaten by a bear and you didn't warn me.

June 10, 2006

Sailor Moon and another Princess Leia. Not much else to say, really. Posted by Picasa

June 09, 2006

Trasformers: The (New) Movie Website Launched

Looks like there's something, probably a trailer, 26 days from now. Anyone know if there's a movie coming out in 26 days that a trailer would be attached to? Or I suppose it could just be an internet trailer.

Oh, and I was trying to find the link to this video for Jay the other day. Is this what a Transformers movie will look like? Could be, though this clip is already a year or more old. Still, sweet stuff.

Update: Somebody on Evil Avatar looked at the source code for the page and found the following: "Transformers: The Movie, Directed by Michael Bay. Their War. Our World. Dueling alien races -- the Autobots and the Decepticons -- bring their battle to Earth, leaving the future of humankind hanging in the balance. In theaters July 4, 2007 from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures. Keywords: transformers, autobots, autobot, Optimus Prime, decepticon, decepticons, transformers robots, robots in disguise, transformers movie, transformers the movie, cybertron, transformers live action movie, transformers game, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Josh Duhamel, Shia LaBeouf, Bernie Mac, John Voight, Michael Clarke Duncan, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson"

I hadn't seen any of those actors listed before, though I hadn't ever really looked.

I'm saving Princess Leia from the Imperials! I'm an intergalactic hero! Wait, I'm a Decepticon...I don't know if I'm good or evil! You can also see Drew's Tusken Raider friend there on the right. I believe this was before Drew provoked him with verbal taunts and rude gestures. Either way, unless I can do something about that gun at my head I think Leia's going to be back in trouble pretty soon. Poor, poor, scantily clad, nerd fantasy Leia. Posted by Picasa

Clutching At Straws

It's June in an election year and your party has controlled both houses of Congress and the White House for almost three terms, but you have nothing to show for it. What do you do? Try to hit all of your hot button issues for your base. But what happens if the permanent repeal of the estate tax *and* the constitutional ban on gay marriage both fail? I guess Republicans will be jumping on Zarqari's dead coat tails, but really this has got to be a hard sell. "Give us the reigns to the country and we'll not get anything done on domestic policy, but we will take several years to track down one guy that will probably be replaced in a matter of weeks."


Ugh, Limbaugh angers me with lies!

Also, using the Israelis as proof that one dead terrorist leader is irreplaceable doesn't seem to hold up when, I don't know, compared to reality. Do they think through the things the write?

Super Early FRT!!!

It's midnight and I'm up anyway, so why not get an early shot at the Random Ten, making sure that I don't forget it. I loaded up my itunes and set it to shuffle and here's what it gave me:

(Song - Artist)
1. Invisible Ink - Aimee Mann
2. Triad - Tool
3. Roundabout - Yes
4. Perry Mason - Ozzy Osbourne
5. Paragraph President - Blackalicious
6. The Temples Of Syrinx - Rush
7. Rawhide - Johnny Cash
8. Bourbon Street Parade - Al Hirt
9. Everlong - Foo Fighters
10. Holy Calamity - Handsome Boy Modeling School

Wow. That's a weird ass mix. Not bad though.

June 08, 2006

Blogger was down yesterday, so I couldn't put up a picture yesterday. Looks like y'all get two today then! Oh Imperial Navy, you've certainly let your fitness standards go. Maybe if the Death Star cantina wasn't packed with so many carb rich foods! Crack TIE pilots can't eat pasta all day, I tell you! Oh, and like so many pictures with Jay in them, these guys had no idea what he was doing and may not even have known he was there, so obviously he made an ass of himself. Good times. Posted by Picasa

Sigh...what can I say...Middle-Aged Robin. Jay later told me I should have gotten this guy to do a picture with one of the Supermen walking around, reenacting a scene from that piece of cinema faux history, Grayson. That would have been friggin' sweet. Posted by Picasa

Comic Book Stuff

First, check out this guy that made a costume of Ben Grimm, also known as The Thing of the Fantastic Four, for a comic convention. Only, this guy made it out of real rocks. Evidently the thing weighs 110 pounds, but it looks awesome.

Here's a bit from The Onion about the new Batwoman, who is one of, if not the, first major comic book character to be openly gay.

A short review of Y: The Last Man on NPR. It's actually not even a very good review, but it is short and it's nice to see good plugging for this awesome series in (more) mainstream media. Seriously, for those that haven't read this should really check it out in trade paperback format.

One last thing, here's a cool picture from the South Pole. Does this look like a video game shot to anyone else?

How I spent my summer vacation VIII

Yes, this is two days' worth of reading.

Augustine, The teacher

The Teacher is a dialogue between Augustine and his sixteen-year-old son, Adeodatus. The dialogue can be divided roughly evenly between two topics: a theory of semantics and epistemology.

The semantic result (8.24.140) is a Wittgensteinian thesis that the meaning of terms is not fixed purely by ostension, but instead is dependent on the context the sentence is uttered -- which I found rather surprising, as Wittgenstein develops his own, meaning is use, semantic theory by criticizing a passage from Augustine's Confessions. By the standards of contemporary analytic philosophy of language, Augustine's argument is quite entertaining: he creates a dilemma by, essentially, running roughshod over the use-mention distinction (see, eg, 5.16.200-6.17.5), and then derives a 'paradox' by appealing to it (8.22.25-8.24.140).

The epistemological result is nicely summed up with the slogan that 'nothing is learned through its signs' (10.33.115). Augustine illustrates by discussion a sarabarae, which is some kind of head scarf: while we can learn through signs that the sign 'sarabarae' means 'a kind of head scarf', we can only learn what these terms, in turn, refer to through other signs; and, eventually, we must have some sense perception of the things to which some basic terms refer in order for meaning to be fixed. (If this is an accurate gloss, it's unclear how it's related to the semantic point.) Similarly, we cannot know that a sarabarae exists unless we actually see it (cf 11.37.20-30).

Augustine then, somehow, concludes that we only recognize the truth of valid arguments by the grace of God, 'illuminating' the philosopher's reason so he can 'discern' the Truth of the arguments. This is, essentially, a Christianized version of Plato's doctrine of recollection.

Augustine, The city of God, book XIX

In my opinion, there is virtually no philosophical content in this reading. After recapitulating a survey of various theories of the Good done by a Neoplatonist called Varro, Augustine criticizes them all as inordinately concerned with material, temporal goods of the world (including the life of contemplation) rather than the eternal peace of Christian Heaven and God's divine authority. Augustine's (rather Gnostic) belief that the material world corrupts the pure soul comes through time and again, but is never really argued for.

Anselm (and Gaunilo), the ontological argument, from the Proslogion

Anselm's (in)famous ontological argument (though it was not known by this name until at least the early Modern period) is one of the most seminal texts in the history of Western philosophy. Entire books have been written over the argument and its successors, and whole theories of logic have been created to, more or less, deny the validity of the argument. Surprisingly, the argument in its original form is not much more than one medium-length paragraph. Unsurprisingly, the argument is incredibly complicated to state in a perspicacious fashion; rather than try my hand, I'm simply going to link to Stephen Dumont's fantastic summary (30-6), which also covers the objections from Gaunilo and Anselm's replies.

Abailard, selection from the Logica 'ingredientibus'

The title of the book is something like 'logic for beginners', though I could be misremembering. The selection covers Abailard's attack on realism -- in this case referring to realism about universals. Again, Stephen Dumont's notes (41-7, which includes a historical summary) do a better job of summarizing Abailard's incredibly complicated arguments than I'm going to attempt here. Dumont, however, leaves off what I find to be the most interesting aspect of Abailard's positive theory of universals: the 'qualities' realists ascribe to universals (their incorporeality, purity, 'bareness' and 'aloneness') are, according to Abailard, due to the epistemic status of universal terms, they way they refer, 'confusedly', to multiple individuals at once. Thus, 'human' refers to all those individuals who are human by representing what is common to all those individuals in a way that is not proper to them. On Abailard's sort of nominalism, then, the metaphysical debate simply disappears -- and disappearing metaphysics is my favourite magic trick.

Ghazali, selection from The incoherence of the philosophers

For a post-Humean sceptic like myself, Ghazali is a blast to read. While Ghazali is motivated in his criticisms of Avicenna and the other Aristotelean Islamic philosophers on religious grounds, the actual content of some of his criticisms is eerily reminiscent of the more familiar but later Hume (or, possibly not, as there may be a line of intellectual descent from Ghazali to Hume through a few of the Mediaevals). In particular, Ghazali gives a debilitating critique of the philosophers' account of causation as necessary connection between events, eg, the touching of fire to paper and the combustion of the latter: this connection cannot be perceived empirically, so we merely perceive the conjunction of the two events; and we do not know that God will uphold this connection in the future, but merely believe it based on habit. And 'habit' even shows up in translation.

The obvious difference between Hume and Ghazali is also worth noting. Hume is a thoroughgoing sceptical empiricist and anti-dogmatist, and his positive theory of causation begins and ends with habit; while Ghazali is, as mentioned above, motivated by his faith, and his account of causation is, ultimately, an occasionalist one: the connection between burning match and burning sheet is not necessary because God is the sole primary cause of the latter, and could freely choose for the sheet not to ignite.

Total pages read: 744

Interesting philosophical link: What good is philosophy?

June 07, 2006

The spinach parable

Taste is a complicated thing. The word itself is rather vague -- I could be talking about taste in clothes, taste in music, or what people like to eat. Here I'm referring to the latter. It's also complicated trying to explain why we think something tastes good and something else tastes bad.

For example, consider spinach. I love a nice piece of spinach, steamed just right, sweet and tender and ... spinachy. Notoriously, though, a lot of people can't stand spinach. Why the difference?

Well, one factor is the way I was raised: lots of fresh veggies and homemade dishes, and junk food was rare in our house (though not as tightly regulated as in other families). So I learned to develop a taste for veggies. Another factor is preparation: like a lot of veggies, if you overcook spinach, it turns into disgusting, inedible mush. My mom knew not to let it steam for more than just a few minutes, and I learned the same, so now I expect spinach to be textured and flavourful, not bland and mushy. My personal biochemistry is also important: leafy greens are an important source of iron for vegetarians (though we really don't need as much iron as you might think), and I've known vegetarians who ate too much junk food, got a little anemic, and started having cravings for spinach.

So aspects of both my biology and history contribute to my taste for spinach, in contrast with a red meat eater whose only experiences with spinach have been of the mushy, disgusting variety. Of course, choice also plays a factor: I could eat chard, or collard greens, or kale, or just eat a steak, but I often make the personal decision to eat spinach rather than those others.

Sexuality works the same way. Like iron, we all have a natural need for sexuality. But you can't give one concise answer to the question of why I'm attracted to this person and you're attracted to that person: some research (though much of it is not very good) has suggested that hormones and immune systems play a role in attraction; others emphasize the importance of cultural context and our individual sexual histories; and we can't discount the fact that there's a certain amount of choice in who we get involved with (or fantasize about).

So when Jerry Falwell and his ilk attack people who 'choose' to be gay, they're overlooking how much of our sexuality and attraction is out of our control. And when neurophysiologists identify the part of the brain that 'makes people gay' (as has supposedly been done three or four times now), they're forgetting how much of our sexuality and attraction is based on our choices.

Of course, we shouldn't forget the heteronormativity that's lurking behind all this -- Jerry Falwell denied, somewhere or another, that he chose to be straight, and neurophysiologists just assume that straight men are normal. There's nothing wrong with eating either spinach or chard (or trying spinach occasionally but sticking with chard most of the time, or alternating spinach and chard, or ... ) to get your iron, and there's nothing wrong with getting it on with someone who happens to have the same or different kind of genitals as you (or trying the other kind of genitals occasionally but mostly sticking with the same kind, or alternating, or ...).

June 06, 2006

I was considering saving this one for later since it's one of my favorites, but what the hey, might as well start the pictures with us in them on a good one. I don't exactly know why, but this picture cracks me up endlessly. We did manage to scare that guy off, but he came back later, and with greater numbers. Posted by Picasa

How I spent my summer vacation VII

Augustine, On free choice of the will, and a relevant selection from the Reconsiderations

On free choice of the will is Augustine's treatment of the problem of evil, and also touches on his notion of the Good, the existence of God, and divine foreknowledge. The piece from Reconsiderations was written some time later, and discusses grace in the context of the discussion in On free choice and some sectarian bickering.

Augustine's solution to the PoE is a fairly familiar one these days: humans have a free will, and thus the responsibility for their sinful decisions lies entirely on their shoulders. Free will is necessary for humans to be good at all; Augustine likens it to hands and eyes, which can be used for sin but are also necessary for good to be done. (This is a ridiculously brief gloss, and he doesn't sound anywhere near this ablist in text.) Sin itself is defined as inordinate desire, which in turn seems to be a desire for perishable goods, as opposed to the eternal goods that come with religious devotion and intellectual contemplation of the True and Good. And, of course, the object of religious devotion and the object of intellectual contemplation come together in the proof of God, where Augustine argues that the True is superior to reason; thus, he concludes, either the True is God, or God is something still more superior to True, and exists in either case.

I'm not sure if I'm doing that last bit justice, because it clearly doesn't go through.

I find it amusing that this small book doesn't actually contain all that much more substance than the nine page translator's introduction. The account of various goods that leads up to the analysis that the True is superior to rationality is extremely drawn out and repetitive, taking up about thirty pages when it could easily have been presented in five or so.

Total pages read: 608

Interesting philosophical link: Some modal metaphysics involving God

How I spent my summer vacation VI

Well, the weekend was mostly spent reading for fun. (Yes! Weekends! Whooo!) And I was hired to teach a math class at a CC just on the other side of the Michigan border, so much of yesterday's writing time was taken up throwing together an assignment sheet.

So this covers reading I've done since Friday, finishing up the Ancients (I'm skipping Cicero and Plotinus because they haven't actually been on the exam in four years). Once I actually start reading today, it'll be on to Augustine.

Metaphysics, selections from books 7, 8, 9, and 12

The so-called middle books of Metaphysics deal with Aristotle's mature metaphysics of substance. It's quite involved -- in previous years, 'explain Aristotle's theory of substances' has been an entire long question of its own. However, briefly:

A thing is a compound of form and matter. Matter, ultimately, is unstructured, propertyless gunk ('gunk' is actually a term of art in contemporary metaphysics), 'pure potentiality'. It is the form of a thing that gives it all its structure -- and Aristotle argues that the form is what we call the 'essence' of a thing, that which makes it the thing it is. Thus, Socrates is Socrates because that particular matter which individuates him (ie, his matter, as opposed to Plato's) is structured into the human form. However, Aristotelean forms are, ontologically speaking, nothing over and above their instantiations; there is no Platonic Form of the Human in some intelligible realm in which Socrates participates or approximates. The structure, by itself, is literally no(-)thing; Aristotle draws an analogy (or perhaps makes an even stronger connection) with a subject and predicate, so that an uninstantiated form is like a predicate ('is human') that isn't predicated of any subject ('Socrates'). It's only when the two are brought together into a complementary whole ('Socrates is human') that there's any being or meaning.

The selection from book 12 concerns Aristotle's prime mover. The picture starts with an Eudoxean theory of nested celestial spheres responsible for the motions of the stars and planets; to prevent an infinite regress, this setup required an unmoved or first mover. But if we recall Aristotle's theory of change, and motion, the potentiality of the mover qua mover is actualized in bringing about the motion, ie, physically speaking, the agent qua agent must change themselves. How, then, can there be a mover that is not moved? Aristotle's solution is that 'objects of desire' move without changing: the cake doesn't need to do anything for me to want to eat it. The prime mover is therefore an object of desire for the outermost sphere -- in particular, the outmost sphere desires to emulate the prime mover. The only way it can do this, however, is through its eternal rotation, which causes the next interior sphere to rotation, and so on.

Since this eternal rotation is necessary (according to certain background assumptions widely shared among the ancient Greeks), the prime mover must necessarily exist in an eternally fixed and absolutely good fashion. From this, Aristotle concludes that it is eternally engaged in the eternal and highest good of contemplation; and, further, the only thing it can possibly be thinking of (to be eternal and absolutely good) is its own contemplation. That is, Aristotle's prime mover is 'a thinking on thinking', and this is the highest and most universal good.

This contrasts quite sharply with the Abrahamic divine we are much more familiar with in the West: the prime mover is not a creator -- the Aristotelean cosmos exists necessarily of its own accord, and is neither created nor destroyed -- and is essentially (as opposed to accidentally) solipsistic. Later, this will lead the Islamic and Christian Aristoteleans to posit their God qua creator as metaphysically prior to the prime mover; this gets incredibly esoteric by the time Aristotle is brought back to Europe, but, thankfully, none of that material appears to be on the reading list.

Nicomchean ethics, books 1-3, 6, 10

This is the first book on the list I've really looked forward to reading -- it should be no surprise that I'm far more interested in the question of how we should live our lives than what counts as substance.

Nicomachus was Aristotle's son, and this collection of lecture notes (most of Aristotle's surviving texts are believed to be lecture notes, based on their terse, dense style) was either edited by or simply dedicated to him.

The opening book is centered on the famous (at least, among ethicists) Function [ergon] Argument of chapter 7. This, in turn, is built on Aristotle's understanding of virtue or excellence [arete]. The virtue of a thing is whatever makes it valuable for being the sort of thing it is: the virtue of an eye is sharp sight, the virtue of a horse is its speed, and the virtue of a human is her rationality and ability to reason. (This is where the alternative translation is useful to contemporary English speakers: the virtue of something is whatever makes it excellent.) Hence, the good of a thing is functioning according to the particular virtue of its sort of thing; and thus the good of a person is functioning according to (in accordance with) her rationality.

The state of functioning in this way (eudaimonia) is translated, poorly, as 'happiness'. As discussed in book 6, happiness is not mere sensual pleasure, but is tied to excellence in activities of all sorts and the quality of 'practical wisdom' (I believe this translates phronesis, which is translated elsewhere as 'prudence'). Eudaimonia is the one complete and whole, and therefore the purest and highest, good: unlike sensual pleasures, which can be enhanced if accompanied by intellectual reflection and good company, eudaimonia cannot be improved upon in any way; and unlike entertainment and rest (which are undertaken, according to Aristotle, for the sake of rejuvenating ourselves, ie, for the sake of activity), eudaimonia is pursued for its own sake. Recalling the discussion of the prime mover, it is also the most divine state.

Book 2 gives a characterization of moral virtue as a moderation of extremes -- the virtuous person chooses to neither eat to excess nor starve themselves, but has a healthy, moderated diet, &c. Generally speaking, there will be two extreme vices and one moderated virtue; but this seems to break down with some vices, such as fidelity/adultery (how do you have 'too much' faithfulness to your partner?). There is an interesting discussion in chapter 4 that establishes being virtuous is more than simply acting virtuously -- to be just, one must knowingly choose to have a virtuous character.

Book 3 talks about the voluntary and involuntary, and arrives at the conclusion that we can only be praised or blamed for actions we choose, and that choice must be both voluntary and deliberative. The notion of a 'free will' won't be developed until Augustine, so this does not yet rise to a metaphysical discussion; Aristotle is more concerned about outlining some fairly intuitive circumstances of when we are coerced and compelled versus when we choose our actions.

Book 10 picks up on an earlier discussion of pleasure in book 7; the conclusions here seem fairly minor, and it is odd that they are assigned without including the earlier book. The final few chapters turn to politics, which is essentially ethics for the entirety of the community: echoing statements made back in book 1, the statesman's responsibility is the maintenance of the virtue and 'happiness' of the population as a whole.

Sadly, the reading list did not include books 8 and 9, which cover friendship, a topic that very few philosophers have showed much interest in.

It's quite likely that the ethical selections from Augustine, Aquinas, and Scotus will make references back to Nicomachean ethics; I'll probably have to come back to sections of this text later.

Total pages read: 525

Interesting philosophical link: The ethics of piracy (no, not that kind of piracy).

June 05, 2006

Best. Darth. Vader. Ever. Seriously, on top of having the most authentic Darth Vader costume I've evern seen *AND* being the right height (It's hard to see in this picture, but he's around 6'4", maybe a bit taller), this guy had one of those little Imperial administrative guys going around everywhere in front of him, clearing a way through the crowd and announcing the dark lord's presence. I don't know what happened to that guy when they got most of the Imperials together for this picture though...maybe he had paper work or something.  Posted by Picasa

June 04, 2006

Well, let's start it off with one that is both awesome and not embarrassing to me. I think the guy on the left was actually more skinny in person, if you can believe that. And so we're clear, he's not Superman. Neither is the other guy, for that matter. They're both dressed, I'm presuming, as different versions of Superboy, who recently fought in the comics.

One important thing to note here at the outset is that every person I took a picture of was not only willing to let me do so, but enthusiastic. That is, afterall, why they dress up. There was one girl that wanted me to give her money to take her picture because, she said, she was a model. It seemed weird to pay someone for a picture, especially a scantily clad woman, so I kept to the people that wanted me to take their pictures.

Oh yeah, and I had to help the Superboys find a table in the foodcourt before I could take their picture so that they could set down their cheesesteaks. Only in Philly!Posted by Picasa