Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Genesis 1:11, Now With Neodarwinian Stylings!

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“You see, kids, the Calla lily, or Zantedeschia aethopica, isn’t really a lily at all! In fact, Brianna, the white part you are touching — which you so innocently call the “flower” — is actually just a leaf, or bract, that has been modified by natural selection to attract insect pollinators to the inflorescence inside of it. Thousands of tiny orange male flowers sit atop hundreds of tiny female flowers on a long column called a spadix, in an arrangement similar to that utilized by the genus Arum. The genus Zantedeschia is native to Africa, which is where we humans probably started evolving away from the common ancestor we share with apes and chimpanzees. Modern humans have only been around for a few hundred thousand years, and ever since then we have looked to the heavens and our favorite bedtime stories to explain the things we don’t understand or refuse to learn about.”

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Konrad Lorenz on Anthropomorphism

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The creative writer, in depicting an animal’s behaviour, is under no great obligation to keep within the bounds of exact truth than is the painter or the sculptor in shaping an animal’s likeness. But all three artists must regard it as their most sacred duty to be properly instructed regarding those particulars in which they deviate from the actual facts. They must indeed be even better informed on these details than on others which they render in a manner true to nature. There is no greater sin against the spirit of true art, no more contemptible dilettantism than to use artistic license as a specious cover for ignorance of fact.

I am a scientist and not a poet and I shall not aspire, in this little book, to improve on nature by taking any artistic liberties. Any such attempt would certainly have the opposite effect, and my only chance of writing something not entirely devoid of charm lies in strict adherence to scientific fact. Thus, by modestly keeping to the methods of my own craft, I may hope to convey, to my kindly reader, at least a slight inkling of the infinite beauty of our fellow creatures and their life.

Excerpted from the preface to King Solomon’s Ring.

The Logic of Reincarnation

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Where do all of the extra souls come from? Is there an infinite well out there somewhere, a Strega Nona pot of spirits from which an endless stream of new lives is poured? Or perhaps all of the species we have rendered extinct can be thanked for the sparks in our hearts: Vast flocks of Carolina parakeets reborn as spoiled suburban iPodders, Golden toads brought back to the Earth as indie bands and punk-rock guerrilla knitters? How does a reincarnation theology deal with overpopulation and resource depletion?

Religion has been ignoring public inquiry for far too long, and now the creationists and mujahadeen alike are going to have to look to hydrogen cells and solar energy for their Salvation. Funny, no matter how abstract we want God to be, how untouchable by human hands and well-protected by Book-wielding kneelers in megachurches — he’s always just there, outside, pushing windmills and making the waves crash. We can’t privatize divinity like we can gasoline production, despite our best efforts at encrypting the message and entrusting a select few with the task of distributing it in tiny bite-sized chunks.

Can humans fall in love with ideas, abstractions that might protect and nourish us? Of course we can. It’s just a trick of memory: memories which may have evolved to help us avoid injury and locate sustenance, and which continue to serve us well, even if the food smells like a yellowing photograph and the pain is from telling someone goodbye.

Freud Analyzes Your Magic Slate

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No, not the “Spirit Slate” (above, from eBay), though that looks like a pretty awesome magic trick. Freud knew it as “Wunderblock” back in 1925, but the children of the 70s and 80s will remember this venerable toy, advertising gimmick, and top-secret communication device* as the one-and-only Magic Slate. Known overseas as the Printator, it was patented in the U.S. by a fellow named Watkins, who (so the story goes) got the prototype in exchange for bailing its inventor out of jail. Freud must have had a total geek-out explosion when he saw this thing:

“It claims to be nothing more than a writing tablet from which notes can be erased by an easy movement of the hand. But if it is examined more closely it will be found that its construction shows a remarkable agreement with my hypothetical structure of our perceptual apparatus …”

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Vygotsky on Art

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“It is asserted that the psychological processes of the perception and creation of a work of art coincide with the identical processes of perception and creation of a word. “The same elemental forces,” says Potebnia, “are also found in a work of art, and we can recognize them if we reason the following way: ‘There is a marble statue (outer form) of a woman with sword and scales (inner form) representing justice (content).’ We will find that in a work of art the image refers to the content, as in a word the concept refers to the sensory image or idea. Instead of the ‘content’ of a work of art we may use a more common term, the ‘idea”. Continue reading

In defense of chalkdust

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Happy Colonial Parasite Day!

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Today we honor Columbus Day by … having parent-teacher conferences? I guess that’s what happens when our memories get sick and start to die … they switch from being “Celebrated!” to just (Observed). And Columbus has certainly been getting sick lately, hasn’t he? Boy, it sure would be great if we could blame him for personally killing all of the Native Americans. You know, make it all his fault and then sweep him and his precious little holiday under the rug? I guess that’s the nice thing about rugged individualism and the American ideal: when we’ve decided we don’t like our heroes anymore, we can just forget about them and they disappear.

We like leaders who will take us into uncharted territory, give us new ideas and move us forward as a culture. Locate a new continent and we will name dozens of cities after you, including our capitol district. You will be applauded, added to the history books, and on one day each year, all of the 2nd graders in the country will chant in unison,

“In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!”

And then, when these same kids get to high school, they’ll learn about smallpox, and genocide, and slavery, and war, and suburbs, and nuclear waste, and capitalism, and theocracy. No catchy mnemonics for those, are there?

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Descartes on Rainbows

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Forty-two degrees makes a rainbow, he says in the Dioptrics. But what is a rainbow if no one is looking at it?

D is for Diatom

Yes, diatoms. And yes, reminding. Everything is reminding, if you
think about it, we are social creatures and in general, military
intelligence aside, we are very forthcoming about making what we know
known to the rest of the hive, don’t think about you knowing something
or me knowing something, think about the human tribe knowing
something, you may not know anything about how astronauts brush their
teeth in space but I can remind you about it by just sending you a
book. Nobody asks one ant to build an anthill, just like nobody asks
one neuron if it can tell you which way to the Self, it will just say
“Yes,” or if it is having an off-day, it might tell you “No,” and then
you might ask a neighboring neuron who seems a little more excited, it
might tell you “Yes Yes Yes” but that’s still no good if your question
was “Where?” it’s like trying to ask a fish how it swims when you’ve
got it on the deck of your boat flailing around, it’s just going to
keep saying “Water Water Water” over and over again, and you’ll think
hey, that’s a strange answer because I was expecting something about
muscle contractions and fins and scales.

This whole notion of one person knowing more than somebody else is
going to become moot eventually, it will just be a matter of one
person knowing where to look for the information, teachers will
eventually not have to do anything but help people come up with the
right questions to ask (that is, after they have taught them that two parallel
lines with one perpendicular line halfway between is “H” and sounds
like “aych” which starts the word “hippopotamus”). Don’t you
know that art and science and spirituality are all going to merge
(back) into one thing eventually anyway, these Victorian-era divisions
people have between Buddhism and Neuroscience are already becoming
irrelevant, how cool would it have been if Jesus the carpenter
would’ve had access to woodscrews back in the day, I’ll bet he would
have made some pretty awesome tables and chairs, take that, all you
humdrum Ikea designers sitting around in the cold northern countries
of Europe.

The picture came from here.

Well-Respected Beards, No. 001: The Godbeard

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The First Beard. Ever.
Like even before goats were invented.

So, does that mean God created goats in His own image, too? I’m starting to see some holes in this whole Godbeard mythos thing. Maybe the guy who invented God (who was almost certainly a bearded man) should be number 001, and God can be 002 … which would make Jesus 003. Hey, but isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to be 003? Maybe the guy who invented God decided he wanted some credit, and snuck himself in there as the Holy Spirit: “Pay no attention to the man behind the Godbeard!”

This is gonna be confusing. I hereby declare beard numbers 001-003 “Pending” until we can get to the bottom of this “First Beard” issue.