Category Archives: random idiocy

public philosophy stories 2: Hitting Nirvana

screenshot-media oglaf com 2016-05-29 15-45-56A few weeks ago I was at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, at Grand Army Plaza. Like many such institutions, it is littered with lecterns holding massive dictionaries. There was one next to a help desk open to a random page. As I walk up, the staff member looks at me expectantly, but I randomly drop my finger down on the dictionary. I look down at where my finger landed, blink in surprise, and say, “I hit Nirvana, I guess that’s it for today.” The staff member laughed, and I left the library.

Posted in NYC, pps, random idiocy, religion.

public philosophy stories, issue 1: Free Muffin

You only have so many skills when you’re 20. I was a few years past that when this happened, but didn’t look it.

The cashier at the Brooklyn coffee shop was 20, though, and was caught in a spot of trouble. Some guy in his late 40s took issue with her SNITCH tattoo — Harry Potter, not gangster. He was over-educated and enjoying himself denigrating the book series. She couldn’t abandon her post, less her skin, and while she was no fool, like I said, there’s only so much one can do at 20.

Harry Potter, of course, doesn’t need my help. But I do take issue with getting your jollies at the expense of someone who can’t defend themself. So I interjected a small remark that lead to his arguments stumbling. When he realized he had been stalled he quickly changed tack. Again the cashier had to give ground.

So I gently sharpened my previous comment. He kept up the pressure, but this time when he stumbled, his argument got impaled. He eyed me in silence.

‘I knew what I was doing when I opened my mouth,’ I smiled at him.

My coffee and muffin were free that day.

Posted in argumentation, NYC, pps, random idiocy.

You think this has nothing to do with you.

Philosophy is disparaged often enough, and by people who ought to know better.  As of late, every time this happens I think of this scene — but with the text (something like) below…..

Oh. Okay. I see.

You think this has nothing to do with you.

You go to your desk and you select, I don’t know, some statistical mathematical model, for instance, because you’re trying to show the world that you take science seriously and follow what you think are established scientific practices.

But what you don’t know is that that mathematical model is not just established science.

It’s not a data model.  It’s not a model of phenomena.

It’s actually a deductive nomological model.

And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 1277, the Bishop of Paris proclaimed that a multiplicity of worlds could exist.

And then I think it was Pascal, wasn’t it, who argued that probabilistic mathematics could be applied to situations?

And then mathematical models quickly showed up in many different philosophies.

And then it, uh, filtered down through to natural philosophy and then trickled on down into some basic handbook of science, where you, no doubt, adopted it without another thought.

However, that statistical model represents millions of hours and countless lives.  And it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from philosophy, when, in fact, you’re using ideas that were selected for you by the people in this room.

Posted in philosophy, random idiocy, science.

Reflections on Frankenstorm

drugs

I don’t normally see cops smoke on duty, but lots of cops were smoking last week.

Beer was being sold for up to $30 a six pack.  Not good beer either.

I overheard a barista at Verb Cafe in Williamsburg say that Tuesday had been their best day ever.  They did twice their sales of a busy Saturday and closed early because they ran out of everything.  He also said he saw a lot more Nouveau Yorkers than normal.

I smelled no more weed on the street than I normally do.  Stoners are consistent.

zombie apocalypse

The Brooklyn half of the Williamsburg bridge had power, but crossing into downtown Manhattan was like regressing into a time before electricity, or more accurately, a time after electricity.  When it got dark at night, it actually got dark.  Anyone who has been to lower Manhattan knows there is a limit to how dark it actually gets: the sheer amount of ambient light prevents real darkness, even in places without street lights.  This no longer held for the few days after Sandy.  Walking the city was passing through endless empty black canyons, devoid of life and filled with remnants of once useful technology.

Every so often I’d come upon a person sitting on a stoop, looking haggard and sucking hard on a cigarette.  When this happened I wouldn’t notice the person till I was already upon them and walking by.  I couldn’t even muster a head nod, not that New Yorkers would be looking for the social interaction, and it was inevitably too late to bother anyway.

My mom called while I was walking back to the bridge a few blocks south of Delancey.  Surprisingly the cell phone coverage held for the duration of the call.  I could hear her voice drop as I described the situation:   The windows are empty and lifeless for blocks, and I can barely make out the sidewalk.  There are no people, or none that I can see.  Sometimes they would show up, but as I said, they were the strays, and would disappear just as quickly.  The cops, wherever they were, were just as cut off as everyone else.  She ended the call quickly.

They eventually got the power down to 14th street and east of Broadway back on.  This returned some of the ambient light to lower Manhattan, but not like normal.  Instead of the sad darkness, a weak, insubstantial haze took over.  It was like being in an old video game where they just colored everything dark, but there were no actual light sources.  You could see things, but it wasn’t like things were lit or had shadows; it was all shadows.  Unlike the previous nights, which hurt in its collapse of basic New York reality, this haze provided an unreality to the situation. It was a transient state, a purgatory, one where you could feel civilization trying to leech its way back.

My friends who live and work uptown were barely inconvenienced by the storm.

banks and power

A bank was robbed clean by Upright Citizens entering the building’s basement and then breaking up through the floor.

I told everyone that if I had a truck I would have ripped up and ripped off those ubiquitous street ATMs that charge $4 a transaction.  I’m actually surprised I didn’t see any of this.

Goldman Sachs had barricades of sandbags around their entrance ways.  Not sure if they were trying to stem the barrage of water only.

They moved the power lines in the city under ground after the 1888 blizzard, which was the last time the stock exchange had been closed for 2 days due to weather.  This was to prevent wind and snow from affecting the power supply.  So maybe the banks will ‘encourage’ our utilities to make the power supply more water resistant.  Cuomo (NY State Governor)  is threatening to revoke the electricity monopolies of ConEd and LIPA due to the power failures.  Floodproofing New York City would be an unimaginably huge project.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a proposal to actually raise the entire island of Manhattan.  If the banks don’t have battery backup security cameras in a few weeks, though, I will be shocked.

the birds

Fauna in New York is sophisticated.  The animals that live here are either well adapted to living with humans or well adapted to getting out of our way.  However, when I saw a pigeon standing very still near the curb in the street, I felt something was wrong.  A van pulled up and the front wheel missed the pigeon by not even a finger’s width, but the pigeon didn’t move at all.  Then the rear wheel ran directly over the stationary pigeon with muffled bone crunches.

I walked into Washington Square Park and a very obese man followed me in.  I sat on one side of the pathway and he sat across from me.  Often, though not generally, people hanging around in public parks who don’t take care of themselves have mental problems.  Then a large flock of pigeons, which is strange in itself, all descended upon this man.  Standing on him, walking up and down his arms, crowding as close as possible to his body. I saw his face, he looked confused, which I took to confirm my suspicion about him.  He noticed me looking and he spoke, completely lucidly:  “I don’t even have food. What’s going on?  I guess the birds are just as stir crazy as the rest of us…”  He wasn’t crazy at all: the birds went Hitchcock on him, and he was trapped.  I left Washington Square Park.

candles

I only type up my philosophy writing when it is being prepared for general consumption, that is, no longer my own notes.  Otherwise I write with a fountain pen, which I find to be the least intrusive and most versatile writing implement.

So I am at my brother’s place in Williamsburg as Sandy shakes the windows, hoping the power doesn’t go out — the internet and cable TV had failed, but not before we saw the footage of the 14th street power station explosion and cars floating on C.  I lit a candle just in case.

As I am getting ready to go to sleep on his shockingly ludicrous couch (not his fault) I turn off the standing lamp, leaving the candle the only source of light.  I think, “Hey, this is how people wrote in the past.  Every philosopher up till just recent has sat hunkered over a notebook with a bottle of ink, a pen and a candle.  Let’s see if there is anything to it…”

OH MY GAWD.

It is fantastic.  Modern lighting is excellent, but it sprays light everywhere.  Normally this is a good thing: one or two lamps can light an entire room easily.  But for focused concentration, the single flickering point light of a candle melts everything else away.  Romance is good for philosophy.

Posted in news, NYC, random idiocy, technology.

The Carnival is Dead. Long Live The Carnival.

I have almost no philosophical associations at this point. I have been out of school for years and my philosophical interests have little impact on how I feel about philosophies and philosophers on which I don’t work. One of the things I have tried to live by is that I don’t know where the next interesting thought will come from.

Of course, if I have experience with individuals or philosophies then I can make determinations about their worth.

I run this philosophy blog which has a very limited readership. It is always fun to host a philosophy carnival, which I have done three times, and get a boost in traffic. By a vast amount, the link Brian Leiter placed on his blog provided the most visitors.  And it is no secret that his blog is the most, or at least one of the most, trafficked philosophy blogs.

So when he did not link to my last carnival, I thought it was a mistake, but then it dawned on me that he could be angry that I had posted links to something that was critical of The Philosophical Gourmet Report, which he runs.  As I said above, there is no conspiracy here, I just thought the posts were interesting. Then he did not link to further carnivals, which removed major support from the carnival. The explanation given on the new philosophy carnival is that Dr. Leiter was unhappy with the quality of the philosophy carnivals.

This is nonsense.  The philosophy carnivals have been about the same for years.  Also, I put a good deal of effort into my carnival and made sure to have lots of high quality links. Dr. Leiter himself put up a link to the same philosophy posters that I had used in my carnival. Moreover, if Dr. Leiter is happy to regularly link to Philosopher’s Anonymous, which is often enough a philosophical bitchfest (not that I am saying there is anything wrong with P.A.), he isn’t in the least worried about “philosophical quality.”

I really can’t speculate on his exact motives, but, whatever they are, it is odd that the issues are so big that he is willing to be so petty. The carnival provides an opportunity for anyone to write something philosophically interesting and then have an audience, if only the carnival host. It is noble in its modest goal. There is no reason not to support it, even if some random person on the internet links to something critical of something you work on, or you don’t like some of what gets posted.

Regardless of these issues, I am happy to see the return of the Philosophy Carnival. Hopefully the new direction will inspire greater participation and, importantly, support.

EDIT: Maybe I’m just pissed because it looks like I killed it seeing as I was the last regular post before it went on hiatus and then spluttered.

Posted in news, philosophy, random idiocy.

Spell Sorites. No really.

Since none of the other philosophy blogs I follow have mentioned it, one of the final round contestants of the National Spelling Bee was eliminated last night by misspelling “sorites.”   I believe the contestant put a ‘p’ in front of the word.  It makes me wonder if these kids know how to do anything other than spell words.

Posted in argumentation, news, random idiocy. Tagged with , .

Wittgenstein and Sun Tzu (on throwing the ladder away)

Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus #6.54

My Propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them — as steps — to climb beyond them.  (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

He must overcome these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter XI #38

At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him.  He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.

I haven’t heard or seen too many uses of the concept of “throwing away the ladder.”  It seems interesting, though coincidental, that it shows up in these two places.

Wittgenstein is discussing the end of philosophy, how once you understand his statements in the Tractatus, you will understand how to move beyond thinking in those terms.  And then everything will be solved.

Sun Tzu, on the other hand, is discussing how a leader can get the most out of those under her command by preventing retreat.  The famous examples are of Hsiang Yu, and later Cortez, who burnt their ships behind them to prevent mutiny and ensure that their troops would fight as if their lives depended upon it (because they did).

Sun Tzu and Wittgenstein may be two of the most commented upon authors of all time.  However, I don’t think either could have the other’s meaning in these passages, or at least I’ve never seen any commentary to that effect.  However, this does not mean there is nothing to be learned:

For Wittgenstein, the recognition of the nonsensical is what is doing the work.  His words are nonsensical and the realization of this is what allows you to move beyond them, to something better (says he).  So by doing as he says, by recognizing his words as nonsensical, your retreat is prevented, because no one, save a mad man, would willingly return to a nonsensical philosophy when a better one exists.  By climbing the ladder, you also discard it.

Compare this to Philosophical Investigations #309:

What is the aim in philosophy?– To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.

The fly-bottle, a supposedly one way process, Wittgenstein is trying to walk back…  In the Philosophical Investigations he’s trying to climb down the discarded ladder.

Posted in game theory, random idiocy, wittgenstein. Tagged with , .

Job

Dear readers, I’ve decided to try to get myself paid for my efforts.  If you know of people or programs (graduate or otherwise) that would want someone like me, please let me know.

What I want to do is write up my theories about the causal structure in evolution;  it will get done regardless, but it will get done faster and better if I have help.  So I am looking for a place that does philosophy of science, biology and physics, but anywhere willing to fund my writing about these topics will be considered.

Any and all information, thoughts, wishes, questions, condemnations, etc., are encouraged.  Leave a comment below or send me an email at noahgreenstein@noahgreenstein.com.

Posted in news, philosophy, random idiocy. Tagged with .

Fodor May Yet Be Clever

I was trying to figure out what Fodor could have been thinking.  Here’s what I came up with:

  1. If we are trying to figure out what Evolution has done, then we presuppose that Evolution is capable of doing something.
  2. If Evolution is capable of doing something, then there must be some mechanism of Evolution that does the doing.

Now imagine yourself in the position of the mechanism of Evolution that does the doing, i.e. the mechanism that selects the traits that yield a higher fitness.

The question becomes: is it possible for you to select for a trait?

The answer is NO.

To understand why, consider what happens when we try to give an evolutionary explanation of something:  we are beset by a near infinite selection of different possibilities.  Only through careful study can we narrow down which traits are actually the ones that increase an organism’s fitness and, if we are in a historical context, only give a most likely candidate for such a trait.

Now imagine yourself back in the position of the mechanism.  The mechanism is stuck with the exact same sort of problem that we have when trying to figure out what it has done:  it has no more an ability to select a single trait than we have to figure out which trait it has selected with our first guess.  Whenever it tries to select for a trait, it may mistakenly also select for another trait that is not so good for the organism, or it may not have even recognized the trait it thought it was selecting for.

Therefore, since this mechanism can’t work, evolution is bunk.

OK.  Now let’s take a step back and look at this argument.  Basically there are two parts:  the first part is an argument that there is a mechanism that does the doing and the second part says the mechanism can’t have done anything.  When I saw Fodor speak on this topic, I believe (it was a while ago now) he spent a good deal of time on arguing for the first part and I didn’t really understand what he was up to.  Now it makes sense because if we accept that there is some mechanism that does the doing, then we may be committed to admitting to at least some amount of skepticism about evolution based upon the second part.  Getting even some skepticism about evolution would be a sufficiently large accomplishment, and so I figure this must be Fodor’s ultimate goal.

In light of this argument I offer this wild conjecture for your reading pleasure:

Replace “mechanism” with “agent”.  Now, instead of an argument against evolution, it is an argument against Intelligent Design.  Intelligent Design has the designer/ agent built directly into it, and this makes the argument much more knock-down:  There is no need to argue for the existence of a mechanism because it is right in the title, and since the intelligence of ID is something like our intelligence, it makes sense that it would suffer from the same problems that ours does.

What I think happened is that Fodor was sitting around thinking why intelligent design doesn’t work and realized that if he could make a strong enough argument that evolution also required some sort of agent, in the form of an evolutionary mechanism, then he could return a similar result.  Since having a technical reason for discounting ID wouldn’t make much of splash, Fodor dropped the argument against ID and pursued the argument against evolution.

Personally I kind of like this argument against ID.  If I ever run into some ID people, I may even bring it up.

Posted in argumentation, biology, evolution, philosophy, random idiocy, science, wild conjecture. Tagged with , , , , , .

What is the Single Worst Understood Philosophical Concept?

I’d like to get anyone’s opinion about what he or she believes to be the single worst understood philosophical concept.    Feel free to mention why you think so if you want.  Also feel free to interpret the meaning of ‘worst’: across the general public, academia, grad students, old codgers, whatever (but do identify your target, please).

Posted in philosophy, random idiocy. Tagged with , .