Saturday, January 24, 2015

Interstellar (Part Two): The Meaning of (Human) Life

This is a continuation of Interstellar (Part One): Utopian Dystopia.  Part Two is far longer and contains bigger spoilers.  If you haven’t seen Interstellar and you hate spoilers, stop reading now! 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Interstellar (Part One): Utopian Dystopia

If you haven’t seen Interstellarand you’re the kind of person who hates even mild spoilers, stop reading now!

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart (Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!)

“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. , Strength to Love (1963)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States.  There will be celebrations, parades, and volunteer outings.  Government offices and schools are closed.  Media, social and otherwise, will overflow with quotations from the “I Have a Dream” speech and “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  Politicians and religious leaders will give speeches.  A film about King’s involvement in the struggle for voting rights in Alabama has been nominated for an Oscar .  What is this holiday really about?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review of reviews

I love reading science fiction and philosophy, but I do occasionally read other stuff.  None of the following reviews from Goodreads are reviews of science fiction or philosophy (at least in any traditional sense), but somehow I felt that they might be appropriate for the blog.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

My review.  This is an interesting mix of history, archaeology, biology, and other fields.  I thought of this one in light of my earlier post, "Is the study of ancient philosophy like science fiction?"

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

My review.  This cult classic probably isn't science fiction.  It might be horror, postmodern play, a weird dream, a hilarious prank, or... who knows?  I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I loved it.

The Shining by Stephen King

My review.  In the future I'll write about my mixed feelings concerning King's attempts at science fiction in books like The Tommyknockers and Under the Dome, but his old school horror is always entertaining, especially The Shining.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Is religion bad for humanity? (Part 2)

See Part 1, where I argued that we don’t know how to answer the question, is religion bad for humanity?  Part 2 consists of some of my more personal reflections.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is religion bad for humanity? (Part 1)

With the recent terrorism in Paris, a lot of people have been wondering whether these apparently religiously-motivated attacks tell us anything about religion in general or Islam in particular. 

Let me get out of the way that I think killing people over cartoons is bad and censorship is also bad, even if the cartoons in question are often racist and rarely even all that funny.  I also think that demonizing a group of 1.6 billion people due to the actions of these individuals is bad (it’s also a fallacious hasty generalization).  This case also raises issues of race, identity, and imperialism (see this nice piece by Teju Cole on many of these issues).  But I want to get to another issue: Is religion bad for humanity?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mokṣa and Money: Two Hyper-Values

In my Philosophies of India course, I’m covering two provocative articles from Daya Krishna that have stuck with me since I first read them many years ago: “Three Myths about Indian Philosophy” and “Three Conceptions of Indian Philosophy.”

In the latter article Krishna argues that, despite the fact that many classical Indian texts begin with the pronouncement that reading the text will help one achieve liberation (mokṣa) from the cycle of suffering (saṃsāra), many philosophers are not terribly interested in liberation, but simply want to get on with their philosophical business after paying lip service to this goal.  In classical India, liberation was an overriding hyper-value that sits above all other recognized values such as wealth (artha) and pleasure (kāma), so philosophers had to tell some story of how their philosophical activity was related to this value even if such a relation was tenuous or nearly non-existent (note: “hyper-value” is my name for it, not Krishna’s).  I have a lot of sympathy for Krishna’s view, but my purpose here isn’t to evaluate his claim.  I have another question.

Do we have a similar hyper-value today?  (By “we,” I mean those of us in the United States, but I suspect a similar, though perhaps less depressing, story could be told of many other contemporary cultures.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review of Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

I've long observed that people of an elitist bent tend to think they're better than other people for pretty bad reasons. This type of elitism is particularly common among Ayn Rand fans, but you can find it across the political spectrum. 

People can be elitist because they're richer, more educated, better looking, etc. or just because they happen to have certain philosophical, religious, or political beliefs. For the most part, this is bullshit. Nobody is a qualitatively better human being than others in all respects simply due to having one talent or belief or being rich or beautiful or whatever. You might be more educated than others or you might like Ayn Rand, but others might be better at woodworking or knitting than you are, or actually care about other people. Why should one of your features make you better than everybody else in all things?