Sunday, May 22, 2016

SAPD – Suggested Acronyms for Puppy Discussion

As many science fiction and fantasy fans are already aware, the Sad and Rabid Puppies are at it again this year.  <sigh>  In a post last year I discussed the Puppies’ vision of the “acronym-laden hellscape” of SFF fandom – SMOFs and SJWs and CHORFs, oh my!  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Jayarāśi and His Place in Classical Indian Philosophy

"Cārvāka" (Credit:
On May 4, I gave a webinar for the Takshashila Institution (a policy think tank in India).  This was my first online presentation!

The talk, "Jayarāśi and His Place in Classical Indian Philosophy," is about the classical Indian philosopher Jayarāśi, a skeptic and possible member of the irreligious Cārvāka school.  A lot of the talk is about placing Jayarāśi in his context in the rich diversity of the classical Indian philosophical tradition.  I aimed to make the talk accessible to people without a background in philosophy or Indian philosophy.

(Note: There was also a PowerPoint for the talk, which is not available at the above link).

Thank you to the Takshashila Institution, especially Nitin Pai, Devika Kher, and Pavan Srinath, for the invitation and for such great questions (which you can hear at the end of the audio file).

The first slide of the PowerPoint

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Panoptic Personas: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

I've been a Philip K. Dick fan for a long time.  I even wrote a chapter for Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits?!  But somehow I had never read A Scanner Darkly.  This is odd because it's one of his more famous titles, although I did see (and enjoy) the Linklater movie several years ago.

Maybe it's because I've never been much of a drug person (I'm weird enough as it is) or maybe it's because I've never experienced paranoia about police surveillance, but this always sounded to me like the least interesting of Dick's A-list novels.

I was wrong.  I wish I had read this sooner.  A Scanner Darkly is, of course, a novel about drug culture and paranoia, but it's also a heart-breaking (and occasionally humorous) meditation on meaning, love, friendship, ethics, power, personal identity, and epistemology.

It combines the subtle humor and epistemological themes of Dick's earlier novels with the literary experimentation and emotional depth of his later novels.  It also generally lacks the bizarre religious themes of VALIS and The Exegesis, which is a brand of Dickian weirdness I've never warmed to, maybe because I worry it's a result more of his mental illness than his literary genius.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Academic Review of Reviews: Books by Beckwith, Carpenter, and Siderits/Katsura

One of the professional academic hats I wear is that of the Book Review Editor at the Indian Philosophy Blog.  I'm always in search of reviewers for that blog.  To encourage others to submit their own reviews I wrote some short book notes of my own on Christopher Beckwith's Greek Buddha (which I also discussed here), Amber Carpenter's Indian Buddhist Philosophy, and the translation of Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Mark Siderits and Shōryu Katsura. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Weerd Syinss: Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

I'm a huge fan of Banks's Culture novels (see my roundup of reviews of each book and a post on my reflections on the series).  I also enjoyed his non-Culture science fiction novel, The Algebraist, and his "mainstream" novel, The Wasp Factory.  I really wanted to love Feersum Endjinn as much as these works, but despite heavy doses of Banksian brilliance, I can't say it quite measures up.

It's not that I didn't like it.  The writing is often beautiful.  The semi-phonetic chapters (whar u 1/2 2 reed fings spelt lik dis) are brilliant as much as they are initially frustrating (you do get used to it after awhile).  The story - such as I was able to make out - is wild, original, and delightfully complex.

The novel unfolds in groups of four chapters, with each chapter following a particular character: a mysterious woman known as the Asura (a Sanskrit word for a kind of divine being or demon), a Count on his last lifetime (oh yeah, some people get seven lifetimes), a scientist trying to decipher mysterious messages (and also caught up in a conspiracy), and everybody's favorite, Bascule the Teller, who is on a quest to find his friend who is an ant (we read his semi-phonetic journal, which come to think to it, may just be how everyone writes in the far future).  The book is actually even a bit weirder than I'm making it sound, but I like weird.