Thursday, March 29, 2012

Response to Weinberger's talk

While we were watching Weinberger's talk today in class, a specific clip from Friends kept replaying through my head. In "The One With Monica's Secret Closet," Chandler manages to open a secret closet, that was locked by his super organized, slightly anal, wife, Monica. 
(Sorry, the sound is a bit off from the video in the clip.)

In this clip, the closet is Monica's space for everything that can't be organized into her declared system. Weinberger talks about how physical things must be classified by their similarities, and the advantage of the internet is that it provides an infinite number of possible classifications. 

Weinberger disagrees with Aristotle's notion that everything must be classified into definite categories. To put it in Bacon's terms, Aristotle embodies the "Idol of the Marketplace" by limiting truth with words. Definitions are concrete and static categories that have no room for miscellaneous objects like those in Monica's closet.

Response to Weinberger's talk

While we were watching Weinberger's talk today in class, a specific clip from Friends kept replaying through my head. In "The One With Monica's Secret Closet," Chandler manages to open a secret closet, that was locked by his super organized, slightly anal, wife, Monica.

In this clip, the closet is Monica's space for everything that can't be organized into her declared system. Weinberger talks about how physical things must be classified by their similarities, and the advantage of the internet is that it provides an infinite number of possible classifications.

Weinberger disagrees with Aristotle's notion that everything must be classified into definite categories. To put it in Bacon's terms, Aristotle embodies the "Idol of the Marketplace" by limiting truth with words. Definitions are concrete and static categories that have no room for miscellaneous objects like those in Monica's closet.

Response to David Weinberger

While we were watching Weinberger's talk today in class, a specific clip from Friends kept replaying through my head. In "The One With Monica's Secret Closet," Chandler manages to open a secret closet, that was locked by his super organized, slightly anal, wife, Monica.

In this clip, the closet is Monica's space for everything that can't be organized into her declared system. Weinberger talks about how physical things must be classified by their similarities, and the advantage of the internet is that it provides an infinite number of possible classifications.

Weinberger disagrees with Aristotle's notion that everything must be classified into definite categories. To put it in Bacon's terms, Aristotle embodies the "Idol of the Marketplace" by limiting truth with words. Definitions are concrete and static categories that have no room for miscellaneous objects like those in Monica's closet.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Enigmatic Connection between Mind and Body

The following link should direct you to a webcomic I came across a while ago. I know it isn't film, but I feel it has some good commentary on the physical and abstract components of one's mind and thoughts. Be sure to read until the end to catch a humorous twist.

Warning: comic contains mild drug-related themes

The game show host takes the position that the mind is an entity separate from the body while the contestant argues that the mind has a physical basis. In a sense, the host approaches the subject more philosophically while the contestant approaches it purely scientifically. Each character makes some good points, but ultimately I'm inclined to agree with the contestant. Just because we cannot yet fathom the physical mechanisms behind complex neural activities doesn't mean we should accept speculation to fill in our gaps in knowledge.

According to the host, the mind must be separate because we have no way of measuring thoughts on an absolutely objective level (i.e., can't record songs that play in our heads or look at the mental images of someone else). We might be able to do these things some day though. Technology from the clip of Strange Days that we saw might not be so far off. Neurobiologists make discoveries to help elucidate the functions of the brain frequently, see this article. We know how the brain functions on a basic level: with chemical and electrical synapses, neurotransmitters, action potentials, etc. The current challenge lies in figuring out how more complex functions occur. As the contestant from the game show comic points out, it's logical to operate under the current hypothesis that the culmination of our micro neural activity is the basis of more complex functions. The mind is only separated from the body as much as our nervous systems are separated from the rest of our body systems.

Practically, this distinction is only a matter of semantics; we must consider humans as an elaborate organic machine. All of our parts and functions are interconnected. As pointed out in the comic, drugs can alter one's state of mind. Consider for instance someone with an attention deficit disorder. They can be treated so that their mind functions more similarly to the rest of us. Drugs make a good argument for the connectivity of mind and body.

Well, that's a lot of fancy talk, but what does it actually mean? It means a situation like the one in Freaky Friday can't actually happen, sorry. Humans don't exist as distinct minds and bodies. My conclusion is based mostly on biology and scientific reasoning. Of course, maybe I'm biased towards a scientific perspective due to Francis Bacon's four idols, limiting the merit of this whole response (whoa, meta).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Death and Star Trek

Over spring break, I rewatched some of the Star Trek movies and found some interesting takes on some of the topics we have discussed recently in class.  So I will be posting some different ideas that these movies portray over the next week or so.
            The first idea has to do with what happens after death.  First a little background on the story arc that deals with the subject.  In the movies one of the main characters, Spock, is killed in a battle.  His body is then laid to rest on a planet which had an experimental device used on it to create a living planet from a dead one.  The effects of this device revived Spocks body.  As you may or may not know, Spock is a Vulcan.  The Vulcan society is extremely logical but at the same time extremely religious.  Their beliefs include that everyone has a spirit of conscious related to their mind called a katra.  When someone dies their katra is transferred through a special ceremony to a different level of consciousness with the katras of the rest of the dead.  There the katras mix together in a manner similar to eastern philosophy’s view of total enlightenment.  Because his body had been revived, Spock’s katra was placed back inside of it.
            I had never given it much thought before on this philosophy but now find it to be an interesting mix of believes on death.  It is like a hybrid of the traditional western belief that death is another step in the journey of a soul and the eastern belief that enlightenment is achieved when one’s consciousness is merged with a universal consciousness.  It also demonstrates to me that there are as many views on death as there are cultures and subcultures.  This brings the question: how do we know which one is true, or at least the most accurate?
            According to these movies, we not only cannot know which philosophy is true but also cannot describe what actually happens without experiencing death first hand.  Because no one can die and live to tell about it (except for Spock apparently).  I would agree that despite all the research, there is no way of knowing what really does happen.  I believe the movies sum the inadequacies of our experiences best with this exchange:

Flatland and Bacon’s Idol of the Tribe Response

Bacon’s four idols describe how everything that surrounds us influences our perception of reality and alters that perception.  Each idol breaks up the influences into categories and how these categories alters perception. The idol of the tribe is the hardest to escape as it is influenced by the people of the past and present. The idea is that what has always been, will always be. Laziness and compliance to stick to a specific perspective, like that the world is flat is the main drive of this idol. 
The movie Flatland takes a look into the lives of two dimensional shapes living in Flatland. To them, the third dimension is unthinkable.  In Flatland, there are a few rules that reside over the land: the more and bigger your angles, it is believed the smarter you are. The circles who have the most and biggest angles, are the wisest of all. The circles have been aware of the third dimension but have kept that knowledge from all of the other shapes.  This makes one begin to question, why has it been accepted that the more and bigger your angles, the smarter you are? Why do the shapes continue to believe in these principles?  What makes them believe that there are only 2 dimensions.  However, it’s easy to question and criticize a fictional world with fictional characters. When looking inward at yourself, and the society you live in, it becomes much harder to ask these questions.   We live in a democracy, are there better methods of governmental system out there? What would be considered better? It’s even harder to answer these questions. 
Arthur Squarington one night is taken to the third dimension by a sphere, Sphereius, who resides in the third dimension.  Arthur, now seeing that there are more than the two dimensions he lived in, begins to question if there are perhaps more dimensions than even the third.  Arthur has been introduced to the concept of Bacon’s first idol. He begins to question the laws that have been set in place by society. Arthur has a new perspective, however it has been influenced by Sphereius, who believes there is nothing past the third dimension. Therefore, no matter what new perspective is discovered it’s still subject to the idol of the tribe. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Truth

This Thursday a question was raised during the class. That question being, What do we do when we have discovered the truth? This caused me to have a few thoughts in response.

How do we know that what we have discovered is, in fact, the truth? If what we discover is the ultimate truth, how can we possibly know that it is the end all be all of existence? Then, even if we do know that this is the case, how can one really accept this as the truth? I find it far more likely that even if this discovery were to be believe true, the skeptical side of humanity would desire to discover an even greater truth.

As such, to me it seems inevitable that we would fall into a situation much like Plato's cave in mentality. Even if we have somehow managed to turn around and see that undeniable truth, we will inherently desire to find the truth behind that truth. This would then continue on and on, purely due to the nature of human curiosity.

So as an answer to the question raised in class, I feel that no matter how blatantly we may stare the truth in the face, human nature itself will prevent us from being completely accepting. Thus, what we will do if we manage to discover the truth is simply aim for the NEXT, or even greater, truth.

I am interested in seeing other people's opinions and thoughts on this question, so please respond.

~ Brandon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chapter 1 Review

Socrates is the center of attention in chapter 1, and more importantly they are concerned with Socrates’ trial and inevitable execution. It is important to remember that the story of Socrates is told by Plato because Socrates didn’t believe the written word could defend itself. It is important to remember this because it tends to be one of those “fun facts” that find their way onto tests.

In this instance Socrates, according to Plato (cough, cough), has just been sentenced to death by the Athenian courts. Another “fun fact” is that at the time exile from Athens was an accepted unofficial alternative to the courts punishment. Socrates’ friends had made ready his escape, and in true Socrates form he was making it harder for everyone than it needed to be. Rather than making his escape to freedom Socrates constructed three arguments why he should adhere to the courts decisions, and inevitably committed a voluntarily suicide/martyrdom. Depending on how you look at it Socrates was either the greatest fool or greatest patriot of all time.

Now before reviewing Socrates three arguments you should probably understand why these arguments are important. The book will tell you that these arguments where influential for Thomas Hobbs and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, however, hopefully at this point in your college career you have grown weary of name dropping. If name dropping is insufficient for you then you will probably have to put in some extra thought about “why” Socrates arguments are so important. Personally I liken it to the maintenance crew that makes sure the foundation doesn’t crack on a large bridge.

Plato’s three arguments-

1. The Argument about Destroying the state (hint – it wasn’t even that good in his time)

“If the laws of a city are meaningless, then, indeed, the city cannot survive.”

2. The Analogy between the state and One’s Parents (Closer but still not there)

“”…You are even more bound to respect and placate the anger of your country then your father’s anger?”

3. The Argument from the Social contract (this is the one you need, can’t think of any more subtle way of saying that)

If you don’t know this argument, go to the text book pg. 6

Questions derived from this chapter to think about-

Lead in arguments for the power, or lack thereof, non-corporeal concepts such as “Law” or “Justice.”

Easily discuss of if social construction is what places man above beast.

Is it ethical to die for what you believe in?

Films working with some of these questions-

The Fugitive (book mentions this one)

A few good men

Well I am drawing blanks at the moment so I am going to get some coffee, and start writing for chapter 2. I really hope that people will add to this review, and get a nice study guide for the class on the blog.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Videodrome, Transhumanism, and the New Flesh

A warning: This video is seriously disturbing and contains violence and body horror. Thank you for your time.

David Cronenberg's film Videodrome is, on its own, a bizarre and disturbing trip into the world of extreme sensationalism in entertainment and its mind-warping power. However, it does introduce a very interesting modern philosophical concept: transhumanism. Transhumanism is the philosophical notion that the human species can continue to advance and evolve by augmenting the human body with biological and non-biological enhancements – that the future of humanity lies in techonologically augmented humans.

One of the factions in Videodrome is the Cathode Ray Mission, established by the late Professor Brian O'Blivion and run by his daughter, Bianca. The mission is a bizarre sort of transhumanist sect with a pre-computer bent: they feel that humanity's future is in video, that there is life in recorded video – that an individual is their image and that a mind can be captured on VHS tapes. In a rather bizarre twist, the mission actually provides evidence for their case, in a bit of a roundabout way: Professor O'Blivion is some years dead when the film begins, yet the world has no clue of this; he makes appearances on television talk shows regularly via his tapes.

More generally, the film supports this notion with the twisted journey that the main character, Max Renn, finds himself taking. Renn is the president for a UHF television network in Toronto; he specializes in gratuitous violence and softcore pornography. In the course of seeking new programming, Renn stumbles upon Videodrome, a “reality” show which consists of protracted torture and ends in murder – staged snuff films, exactly what Renn thinks will be the next big thing. Videodrome is actually produced by a NATO-funded terrorist group; the show is a weapon designed to grow hallucination-inducing, reality-warping tumors in the brains of viewers – lowlifes, in the opinion of the terrorist group, who should be purged from the North American continent.

Renn, throughout the film, has been subjected to a slightly-modified version of Videodrome which has effectively replaced his mind with a fleshy VHS player, and the program his body is playing is the terrorists' – they are using him as a distributor for their video weapon and as an assassin. Bianca O'Blivion, when targeted by Renn, puts in a new tape and uses him to kill the head of the terrorist cell. After his target is eliminated, he is ordered to destroy his “old flesh” and fight Videodrome in the video realm.

Videodrome is heavily invested in bundle theory, in terms of identity. Professor O'Blivion is alive, preserved in his VHS tape library. Max Renn is reprogrammed twice over the course of the film, first into a NATO assassin, then into a transhumanist assassin. His identity is swapped out as easily as one might swap out a VHS tape. The horrifying mutations he undergoes are partially a result of the tumor in his head and partially a result of the changed nature of his mind; his body, as it were, shifts to suit the needs of his new mind and new identity, from the highly-Freudian cassette slot that appears in his stomach to the cancer-inducing weapon that replaces his right hand.

Soul theory is herein invalidated, as the "real" Max Renn, the soul, would have put up some resistance to the drastic alteration of personality and identity. In some way, however, the film could be said to have some soul-like influences on its mind mechanics. If the O'Blivions' words are to be believed, the mind can be preserved in video, although most minds are destroyed. While, unlike the soul, the mind is not indestructible, it can be given an indefinite lifespan. Again, the mind can be, and with the exception of Professor Brian O'Blivion's and Max Renn's minds, is destroyed in death, so it is not a soul or soul-like construct, but it is more enduring than the mind in other works.

This video is a series of clips from Videodrome. The first occurs right after Bianca O'Blivion has inserted her VHS tape into Max Renn. The rest are the results of that first action, condensed.

One True Identity

I think that we all have one identity that we are supposed to be and that our soul, body and mind will help lead us there and that we have the choice to realize who we are supposed to be and whether or not we will be that person. In The Lion King, Simba purposefully choses to forget and runaway from who he was because it was easier. Then the sight of Nala starts to remind him of who he was. I would also say that his soul starts to tug him into that direction, and eventually leads him to someone that could help, Rafiki. Then he follows Rafiki and sees his father in the sky who directly states who he is supposed to be (this clip can be seen below). Also, for Mufasa to exist after death he must have something that could be separated from his mind and body, which we would call a soul, but that is for another response.  Furthermore, in X-Men, Wolverine chose to search for who he is supposed to be. The surgery that gave him his claws wiped all of his memories clean, but yet they still come up in dreams. I think this is the soul trying to help Wolverine realize who he is supposed to be. The mind may have started his search by allowing him to glimpse his past, but his interactions with the rest of the X-Men also helped him learn who he was supposed to be. For both of these cases the characters discover who they are supposed to be through interactions in the world, that would involve both the mind and the body, and that there is also something else beyond those two that helps them discover who they are. In addition, everyone has the chose to either be that person or to be someone else.

The nature of an Ideal

Last night my better half was explaining to me some of the work that she was going over in her mass violence and aggression class. After a rather lengthy conversation we got down to two statements that carried us into a two hour debate. She eventually claimed that Christianity and Islam are violent religions. To support her opinion she pointed out the many wars fought in the name of Christianity or Islam over the past several centuries, most notably the crusades occurring from 1095 to 1291. Her argument concluded by saying that religion is made up of people, and because without believers the religion would not exist the religion is defined by its followers. From that it follows that since the followers of Christianity have been notably violent, then the ideal of Christianity is a violent ideal.
I thought this was an interesting way of defining the nature of an ideal, but inevitably I disagreed with her. I had two problems with her argument; the first being that I do not believe that an ideal is defined by the people following the ideal. Take for example a paid artist who is very good with clay as a medium, and is very enthusiastic about painting. Sadly this artist is not very good at working with a paint brush. Now this artist has been truly inspired by the ideal of art to paint a sweeping landscape. Inevitably the artist fails to capture his inspiration on the canvas. Now imagine that this is the only artist to have ever existed. Now because it was impossible for this artist to capture his inspiration on canvas should we change our conception of art? Has art as an ideal changed because the followers of art are unable to demonstrate it perfectly to the rest of the world. No rather the ideal of Art is still unchanged in its perfection even though the followers of art are unable to personify the ideal.
Now having covered an example of ideals being unchanging in response to the ideals followers, the second question is, "Is the nature of Christianity (the ideal) Violent?" One way i thought about this was from a semantic approach, which meant for me to define Christianity. There are many sects that have a variety of beliefs, but are all defined as Christian. The consistent point that makes a sect a Christian sect is that they believe Jesus Christ was the son of god. Therefore we could simply define Christianity as that held belief. As such the Ideal of Christianity has nothing to say about violence or non-violence.
I unfortunately do not know nearly enough about Islam so last night our discussion centered around Christianity, and whether it was by its nature a violent religion. I decided to post some of the thoughts that came up during that conversation here, because i really like tinkering with what aspects gave an ideal definition. Sadly this landed me in hot water with the girl friend because she hates working with theoretical concepts like perfection. I tried to point out to her that to work with ideals you have to work with theoreticals because an ideal is defined as "the concept of something in its perfection." Naturally as soon as I brought the dictionary into the argument, it was time to watch a show together. In what I imagine is a normal home when someone pulls out a bible arguments tend to end with a "well if you are going to bring faith into it." But at my home this is what happens when someone pulls out a dictionary.

I know this doesn't directly relate to class, but Dr. G prompted us to post our thoughts as well.

Faith in the dictionary, probably not all that different from faith in a bible,

Monday, March 5, 2012

Is it possible to explain life after death with science?

            I ran across an article that goes into more of the science behind life after death, entitled, "Has Science Explained Life After Death?" The story begins by looking at a woman, Pam, who in 1991 underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm. During the surgery, all of the blood to her brain was drained for 45 minutes, and she was officially brain dead for that time. However, when she awoke she claimed to have had both a near death experience and an out of body experience. What she described was similar to what we have seen in two movie clips in class, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2," and "City of Angels." In Harry Potter, he is greeted by Dumbledore who has recently died. Dumbledore procedes to talk to Harry and explain to Harry the general nature of Harry's circumstances and the afterlife in general. In the second movie, "City of Angels" a little girl is taken to the hospital, and while she is on the table she passes away. She is greeted by Nicolas Cage, an angel, and is able to watch as the doctors try desperately to save her. Durring Pam's brain death, she sees and communicates with her deceased relatives but also is able to see the doctors operating on her. When she was awoken from her surgery she was able to describe her experience in detail, including precise details to the tools used during her operation. 
         How does science play into all of this? According to the University of Kentucky, near death experiences can theorized by a sleep disorder and are nearly rapid eye movements, commonly known as REM.
          "In this disorder, a person's mind can wake up before his body, and hallucinations and the feeling of being physically detached from his body can occur. The Kentucky researchers believe that NDEs are actually REM intrusions triggered in the brain by traumatic events like cardiac arrest. If this is true, then this means the experiences of some people following near-death are confusion from suddenly and unexpectedly entering a dream-like state1."
       One now begins to question the book written by Moody "Life after Life," in which Moody gathered the experiences of 50 people who have had near death experiences. Were these near death experiences simply distress expressed by the brain? While we discover what causes a near death experience, why then do we have near death experiences? What makes the majority of the reported near death experiences so similar? The REM theory doesn't explain. 

        Next, the explanation of out of body experiences. It is entirely different from a near death experience in that it  has been scientifically proven: it is not a theory. 
To find the cause of a 43-year-old epileptic patient's seizures Swiss neurologist Dr.Olaf Blanke conducted a brain mapping test using electrodes planted on the brain to determine which area controls what function. As one region was being stimulated, the woman had a sudden out-of-body experience. She told Blanke that she could see herself from above. Blanke determined that by electrically stimulating the woman's angular gyrus, a part of the temporal parietal junction he could induce her OBEs. What's remarkable is that the patient experience an OBE each time her angular gyrus was arbitrarily stimulated1."
      Out of body experiences are then just the brain being stimulated in a specific way.  However, in Pam's case, she was brain dead, so higher brain functions should not have been occurring. In her condition, it would seem reasonable for her to have had a near death experience due to the brain stem firing, but unreasonable for her to have had an out of body experience at the exact same time. 
         If near death experiences and out of body experiences can be explained scientifically, where then is the room for religion? The room comes from the fact that the science explains the how, but not the why. The brain causes us to see these images, but why are we seeing these images?  Does the culture we live in influence us that deeply that we see what we expect to see? Is that why so many people see a tunnel with white light and talk with deceased relatives when they have a near death experience?  Or could there be a deeper reason, beyond us?  Is there something out there that makes us not the center of our own universe, as we discovered that the Earth is not the center of our galaxy?  Being a Christian, I have faith that there is a deeper meaning out there; beyond the how explained by science.  It would be disappointing to discover that the near death experiences, out of body experiences, and life in general, were merely tricks of the mind; that there is nothing beyond this lifetime.  As so eloquently put by Dr. Melvin Morse, "Simply because religious experiences are brain-based does not automatically lessen or demean their spiritual significance. Indeed, the findings of neurological substrates to religious experiences can be argued to provide evidence for their objective reality1."  
1.Clark, Josh.  "Has science explained life after death?"  23 October 2007. <> 04 March 2012.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Response to idea that who we are is simply memories/perceptions

We briefly talked in class about whether we would be the same person if we lost our memories, or if our memories, made up through chemicals in our brain, are all we are. This sort of thinking would follow Hume’s idea that “[Human beings] are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions.” Split brain theory was given as an example of this. However, I think the movie The Vow argues differently(the trailer can be seen below since the movie is too new to find clips from). (Spoiler alert) In this movie Paige is an artist living in downtown Chicago. About 4 years earlier she had been engaged to Kyle and was attending law school. However, after she found out that her dad had cheater on her mom with one of her friends, she broke off her engagement to Kyle, dropped out of law school and moved to downtown Chicago. After moving to downtown Chicago she eventually met and married Leo. However, they were rear ended while they were driving around town one evening. The wreck resulted in her losing all memories pertaining to the last four years. This included meeting Leo, dropping out of law school, breaking off her engagement, and discovering her father’s infidelity. If we follow Hume’s idea that who we are is simply made up by our memories and perceptions, then Paige would not be the person that Leo knew. She no longer remembers the discover about her father that made her life, so after the wreck she found herself very happy going back into her old life and didn’t find Leo to suit her at all. Instead she was pursing her ex again. However, she slowly finds herself going down the same path that had resulted in her moving to downtown Chicago. She even ends up breaking up with Kyle again and breaks up with him for all the same reasons despite the fact that she was not severely traumatized by discovering her dad’s infidelity. She even moves back into the city and becomes an artist once again. At this point she starts dating Leo again. This would seem to suggest that despite the fact that the chemicals that held those memories and perceptions were gone, she was still the same person. She still found that her identity was not a law student, but an artist instead. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fight Club: Eastern and Western Philosophy

 His Name Is Robert Paulson Scene from Fight Club Movie (1999) | MOVIECLIPS

This clip of Fight Club shows when one of the members of Project Mayhem, Robert Paulson, dies in the line of duty and how the other members react to his death. In Project Mayhem everyone is said to have no name and their only duty is to serve Project Mayhem by committing acts of vandalism of corporate America. When Robert Paulson dies the rest of the members come to the conclusion that “in death a member of Project Mayhem has a name.” This shows that people, sometimes without knowing it, feel the need to work while living towards a high meaning in the afterlife. In the case of Project Mayhem, it was going from having no name while living to in death where they gain their name.
This scene also contradicts the scene shown in class with the chemical burn being given to the narrator and Tyler Durden expressing how life should be lived in the moment. Tyler Durden by using a chemical burn on the narrator made the narrator accept that life is right now and in this moment he must accept the burning flesh on his hand if he wanted the vinegar to neutralize it; not mediate out of the moment. This is right in line with eastern philosophy were it says “you will not let your hopes and fears for the future run your life.” Interesting that naturally the members of Project Mayhem when presented with the death of one of their own resorted to western philosophy and a hope in the afterlife.