“We have found, indeed, that although we had contemplated building a tower which should reach to the heavens, the supply of materials suffices only for a dwelling-house, just sufficiently commodious for our business on the level of experience, and just sufficiently high to allow our overlooking it. The bold undertaking that we had designed is thus bound to fail through lack of material – not to mention the babel of tongues, which inevitably gives rise to disputes among the workers in regard to the plan to be followed, and which must end by scattering them all over the world, leaving each to erect a separate building for himself, according to his own design. At present, however, we are concerned not so much with the materials as with the plan; and inasmuch as we have been warned not to venture at random upon a blind project which may alltogether beyond our capacities, and yet cannot well abstain from building a secure home for ourselves, we must plan our building in conformity with the material which is given to us, and which is also at the same time appropriate to our needs.”, Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Reclam, 1966, p. 726 – this is the semi-official English internet translation of the original passage.
[I am re-posting this from another blog of mine out of nostalgia. This is a favorite quote of mine and my quought of 2008 actually is, in an endearing kind of way, something that has stayed constant in my head over the past 30 odd years.]
I know: a poet he was not. Nevertheless, this is a sublime poetic truth. It is much like my history teacher (the forever unknown Jef Arras) told me twenty years before I mustered the courage to read, happily unguided as ever, this rather annoying but great book: there was philosophy before and after Kant, and only the latter is of real significance. Continue reading
We went to the theater last night. There was a message there somewhere. As could be expected, I guess, from a piece carrying like a cross the title ‘Golgotha’ (never mind the addition ‘picnic’). Anyway, we didn’t get it. Too unprepared I assume. One doesn’t go unprepared to a thing filled to the brim with biblical references and come out unpunished. That’s a pun. Well, at least pun-ish.
I peed when it was done, then smoked, then joined the after-theater. I was hungry. The thing is that I don’t cope well with alcohol, less so when I’m hungry. So now I’m in a foul mood writing this. But back to last night, I drank beer and only got my snacks during the second one. At which time I ate almost all. Conversation til then was about what it meant, the piece. And why there was so much nudity. “What makes a couple of tits and penises so essential to modern theater?”, was the second plate and actually the main meal. ‘God only could know what it meant.’, was the quick outcome of the first dish. Even if God was hated in it. Or so it seemed because on the other hand there was a large and, all things considered, long piano piece of Haydn in it. Let’s go out on a limb and posit that Haydn did hate God and move on to nudity.
“Meaningful criteria are not simply those posited by society – or those of our ancestors – applied as law to a given case. Rather, every concrete determination by the individual contributes to socially meaningful norms. The problem is similar to that of correct speech. There too we find undisputed agreement on what is admissible, and we subject it to codification. The teaching of language in schools, for example, make it necessary that the schoolmaster apply these rules. But language continues to live, and it thrives not according to a strict adherence to rules, but by general innovations in spoken usage, and in the last instance from the contributions of every individual.” Hans-Georg Gadamer, in “On Education, Poetry, and History. Applied Hermeneutics, SUNY, 1992, p. 173.
It’s hard writing this and at the same time listening to a live report in Spanish of a Real Madrid game. All indications are I’d do better doing neither. But here I am, thinking about whether things that – like my life, this place – ultimately come to an end still come to an end. They do. Although not in the way most people like their ends – final, clean and clear cut -, they do. Every contribution contributes. To what? How? No clue. A certain amount of voluntarism is indispensable. Not a question of laissez faire the big things but one of laissez aller the small ones.
I confess I’ve spent the summer acquainting myself with Breaking Bad and Mad Men. I was able to “get current” on Breaking Bad just in time for the second half of the final season. I’m still a good deal behind on Mad Men. I enjoy both shows a great deal and it seems the one I enjoy more is whichever show I’ve watched more recently. Here’s my problem.
I watch them alone. My wife has zero interest in either show, so I end up watching them either when she’s gone or when she’s gone to bed early. Not only that, since I’m “binge watching” on Netflix, I’m watching them alone in a grander sense as well. When I’m sitting thinking, “Joan did NOT just say that!” everybody else was doing the same two or three years ago.
The other day I was watching the season finale of Season 4 and Megan was talking to Don about her college roommate who is an actress. She complains that her roommate told her she could never be an actress because of her teeth. My thought was that’s kind of meta on a few levels. First of all, Jessica Pare plays Megan and she obviously could be an actress with those teeth. More interestingly, though, somebody who works on Mad Men had to have had a conversation with Pare about her teeth. I mean, they either wrote the season and then cast Pare as the secretary with big teeth or they saw Pare’s teeth and wrote a line about her being self conscious of them. Either way, the Mad Men staff had to bluntly broach the topic of Pare’s teeth in a way similar to the way Megan is complaining about. This led me to wonder, “Is Mad Men actually a commentary on Hollywood?”
All this was spilling out of my brain as I watched and while I thought it would be an interesting point to discuss, there was nobody with whom to discuss. Sure, I could go on Twitter or Facebook and jot down some thoughts, but the likelihood of that generating any conversation is slim and one should really be careful about the topics you try to discuss in a 140 character medium. I could scour the internet for discussions, but the odds of that being fulfilling seems remote. When a future civilization comes across the ruins of our society, they will point to internet comment sections and wonder, “How did they not realize the end was nigh?”
I had a similar experience of pent up critique after reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had thoughts and theories on various aspects of the book and nobody to share them with. Frustrated, I started a book club. That’s been running for about three years now. That leads me to wonder: are there TV clubs? That would be kind of cool. Agree to watch, say, half a season of some show on Netflix and then convene over beers to share your thoughts.
Reeling this back in to my original point, it’s interesting to me that with DVRs and Netflix and streaming we are taking what’s already a fairly solitary act – watching a TV show – and making it even more solitary. It would lead me to believe we don’t really care to talk about the TV we watch, but if that’s the case, why are we watching shows that generate so much conversation? Of course, I’ve found that when I actually ask people if they watch Mad Men or Walking Dead or Breaking Bad, a tiny percentage do. Nielsen ratings are dominated by shows like Big Bang Theory. When we watch so much television that’s not worth discussing, maybe we don’t realize we’re missing out when the other kind comes along.
I confess this is probably my worst effort ever at shoehorning what I wanted to talk about into the “Confession” template. With that in mind, I’ll toss a real confession out there. I love playing golf. Paradoxically, as a rule, I hate doing so with other people who like to golf.
I confess that yesterday I found out my neighbor across the street died. On June 6th.
This woman was an elderly woman living alone with a dog who felt its job was to tell everybody to stay the hell away from its property. It took this job very seriously. About three weeks ago, my wife pointed out that our neighbor hadn’t put her trash out for at least a month.
At first, I didn’t think too much of it. She’s left to visit family for long stretches. Maybe she had a surgery or something and was just recovering at the home of one of her children. The more I thought about it, though, the more I feared I was being optimistic.
Once my wife pointed out the trash thing, a few other things clicked. I hadn’t heard that little dog in a long time. Her car was never in the driveway anymore. Her children’s cars – whose out of state plates stick out – were around much more frequently. None of these were good signs.
So yesterday, when all her children’s cars were parked either in the street or in the driveway, I decided to do a Google search on her name (which, shamefully, I had to find through the city’s online GIS) and “obituary”. She popped right up, and my heart sank at seeing her photo in the notice. Our neighbor of eight-and-a-half years had died and it took me two-and-a-half months to realize it.
This filled me with quite a bit of guilt. I’m a city planner who spends a good deal of time trying to foster improved neighborhoods and communities and have often said that a lot of our neighborhood problems could be solved or avoided if we just gave a shit about our neighbors. I won’t say I didn’t give a shit about this woman – I used to speak to her whenever we crossed paths – but when she can be dead for nearly a full season without me noticing, I can certainly confess I didn’t give enough of a shit.
Since our neighbors on the other side are selling their house, we’ll conceivably have new neighbors on either side of us. This would seem to present a good opportunity for a fresh start as a better neighbor. I’m not sure what form this effort will take. A “welcome to the neighborhood” basket? Inviting the new neighbors over for dinner? Making mental note when I haven’t seen them for the past month? Regardless, I’ve decided to make sure I never again have to use the internet to remember my next door neighbor’s name.
How about you, good reader? How well do you know your neighbors? Do you wish you better knew them or that you knew them less? Feel free to confess on these matters or whatever might ease your load.
I started here with an overview of the objectives. I continued here with the second one dedicated to our prior art. It is now time to finish this with the third and final objective which, when reached, will ensure a common context (foundation) for the real work we’d like to do later on.
This is what we said before about this objective:
3. Acquire the ability to integrate the prior art with the goals
Now this was probably not the most fortunate way of putting it. Acquiring an ability is an activity. Unless we believe all of the nonsense of brain scientists, there is no way of monitoring whether such a process takes place let alone whether it takes place successfully. To put it more directly: we can all think we are acquiring all kinds of abilities whilst we are just acquiring the ability of procrastination combined with that of complacency. The flip side of this is that anybody can attest to anybody else of us ‘doing our best’ or ‘putting in a lot of work’ but whilst all of that may have ‘merit’, neither has a direct link with that ability we want acquired.
So the better formulation would have been ‘to demonstrate the acquisition of the ability to integrate the prior art with the goals’ (even if it sounds horrible, as a sentence). How to demonstrate this? Via language of course. In our case specifically by using language to demonstrate we can create original links between the 8 philosophers reviewed and the conjecture of progress being the nature of language.
Below the fold you will find the concrete steps to do this in this community. Your contribution could well demonstrate in concrete fact an example of progress by language. In fact, that is the third objective.
I left it here at stating the first two objectives with the second one being:
‘Understand the basic prior art i.e. relevant philosophy’ means that
- you are able to pinpoint the basic claim to fame of following thinkers:
- I. Kant, H-G. Gadamer
- J. Habermas, J. Rawls
- D. Davidson, P. Grice
- H. Kyburg Jr., G. Gigerenzer
- you can understand why they are in four categories, and,
- you can inter-relate the main themes of their respective works.
Assuming you have completed the first bullet, I owe you some explanation on the last two bullets. Here goes: Continue reading
This is an experiment in which I claim no expertise. The previous sentence will be my only disclaimer.
The goal is to join together people to examine the justifications for a belief I have: progress is the nature of language. I hope this is not an original thought because if it would be its examination would have to rely on the unlikely coincidence that the right people would find me and join me in a sustained way despite my strenuous use of language. I further hope that people do join and, if so, that they join in the spirit of amateurism. Why the latter? Because my belief entails – or so I believe – that any true communication presupposes that amateurs, if sufficiently motivated, can contribute to it (call that “the grounding principle“).
Let me not get ahead of ourselves though: before we can get to the goal we have to cover our preliminaries. In this case, we have to establish a common context (a mental meeting place if you will) where we of course may see things differently but not because we see different things. This is the starting point as individuals can only come together after having established a common context i.e. after having formed a community. I know all this begs the initial question. That shouldn’t be an issue, I spoke of my belief as a belief and we have time to come back to whether it is justified or not (so I ask you to apply another corollary of my belief – one coined by Grice – “the principle of co-operation“).
The following three objectives are set for individuals aspiring to be part of this community:
I confess to getting hung up on a fairly minor point.
When the Boston Marathon bombings happened, I think my reaction was probably similar to most people’s. I was horrified. I’ve been at finish lines as both a runner and a spectator. They have an unbelievably positive vibe. Just about everybody there is personally invested and the people who aren’t are volunteering to help others and are usually very energetic about it. It seemed particularly vicious to wipe all that out with what seemed to be random violence.
Adding to my horror was a little exercise I did. In an attempt to properly empathize with the people affected, I pictured my last finish when I was able to find my wife, my brother, my mom and my sister cheering in the crowd as I crossed. That image is very positive and burned into my brain (I hope) forever. Superimposing the films from the bombings over that image in my brain was too effective, too emotional, because I assumed some poor soul didn’t have to imagine it. Some poor soul probably lived through it.
When I pulled back from that terrible image, I thought of all the ways people would be affected. I eventually realized I didn’t really hear anybody mention the runners who didn’t finish. That’s probably appropriate. They probably consider themselves lucky. I’d imagine most of them felt a little disappointment, but focused their energy on finding their loved ones and getting back home safe. Still, I felt bad for them. Continue reading
Time for my story. It might very well be the last (I say, as if anybody cares). As if I care whether manybodies care. Faux is the pas of making an out-of-bracket comment on a between brackets comment. And that quite sums up my story. That and a rather improper use of the words ‘and’ and ‘that’ and that mainly at the start of sentences. And excessive self-commenting, I guess. That too.
As if I know the only one watching me am I; compelling me to do, comment on doing and reflect on the commenting – all at once. Not – also not a word to lead a sentence with, I might add (and just did: add that is) – particularly an attraction people will pay for. Not even an attraction people won’t pay for. Not even one to ignore. Just something not to notice. What if, then again, what if such and such?