Saturday, March 25, 2023

Science Fiction and Philosophy Society Inaugural Meeting: April 5, 2023

I'm thrilled to announce that the Science Fiction and Philosophy Society will have its inaugural meeting at the Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association in San Francisco, California, USA (Earth) on Wed. April 5, 2023 at 8pm. Details about the APA Meeting can be found here. Maybe I will see you there!

Random Thoughts, Part 20: Non-dualism, Tacos, Chattanooga, James Bond, and Such

I haven't made a "Random Thoughts" post since October, but rest assured: the random thoughts have kept coming. Here are a few of them! With memes!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

So I Watched All the Oscar Nominees for Best Picture


I don't always care about the Oscars. I don't even watch the ceremony every year. But this year I happened to notice that I had seen a few of the nominees for Best Picture already, so I figured: why not watch them all? So I did! And here's what I thought about all of them in a series of mini-reviews!

Overall I have to say I was pretty impressed with this year's crop of Oscar nominees. I found something to like about all of them, and some of them I thought were really good. One film stands far and above the others for me, but overall I can say I'm glad I watched all of these. I kind of hate ranking things precisely, so below is sort of my order of overall preference. But really who cares what I think? I guess we'll see what the Academy thinks a few hours after I post this!

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Happy (?) Third Pandemiversary!


Sunset in Albuquerque, NM (March 2023, trip postponed from May 2020)

What follows is an entry from my COVID Pandemic Journal, which I don't write in as much as I used to and post here on the blog even less. But since it's our third pandemiversary today, I figured it was time to dust off this old practice. Enjoy!

11 March 2023 

It’s the third anniversary of the pandemic, our third pandemiversary. A lot has changed in the last three years, both for me and for the world. Whatever lessons we may be learning are not coming fast enough. They may not come at all, but I continue to hope they may come yet. 

I don’t think I’ll have as much to say as I did on this day last year (our second pandemiversary). And that’s one thing I’ve learned in all this: it’s okay to do less. But, above all, I’m just tired. (Some of that comes from the confluence of the pandemic, post-tenure exhaustion, and feeling middle age for me.) 

Today I was remembering March 11, 2020. I was visiting family in Minneapolis. My sister and I had a nice day: lunch, happy hour, we brought my nephew to a swim class, and then we all met up with my brother-in-law and went out to eat. When we got back to the house, the news was saying an official pandemic was declared, and (as I’ve put it ever since), the world changed, but not even overnight. It was faster than that. I ended up renting a car and driving home instead of flying. 

As I joked at the time, Spring Break 2020 never really ended (and not in a fun way) as we didn’t return to the classroom in person until the fall. I’ve continued to teach mostly online ever since, although I’ll be back mostly in person in fall 2023. (Now my joke is that being on sabbatical is kind of like winter break never ended for me…) 

A lot of people were done with the pandemic a year or more ago. Most people talk as if it’s over; COVID has moved into the past tense. The statistics are now mostly difficult, or impossible to gather and many local health boards have stopped tracking anything but hospitalizations, but it does seem like we’ve maybe reached a point that must’ve been reached around 1921 after the pandemic that began in 1918 where a lot of people have some protection. But, of course, a new nasty variant could always crop up and change everything. 

And some people are still getting it. 2022 was the year that Beth and I finally got it. It sucked, but we stayed out of the hospital. Others are not so lucky. Death rates are much lower, but not zero. 

Last month in Denver, I went to my first big in-person philosophy conference since Jan. 2020. It was nice to see everyone in person. I inconsistently wore a mask, and mostly I didn’t. I figured a group of academics would be overwhelmingly vaccinated. I did go to a lot of bars and restaurants. It seemed almost normal. But I did wear a mask on the plane. I still wear one at the doctor, pharmacy, and grocery store—places where I figure vulnerable people have to be. 

Beth met me and we rented a car and drove down to New Mexico, which was awesome. We were supposed to visit New Mexico in May of 2020, so this was an overdue visit. We hadn’t been there since 2015, so we ate a lot of green chile and realized how much we miss New Mexico. It has its own culture in a way that most US states do not. I always say that Albuquerque was my favorite of the many places I’ve lived, and that continues to be true. 

I have another conference in San Francisco next month. I’m planning to make use of being on sabbatical by making an epic road trip out of it, and may even get to Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho on the way back (three states I’ve never visited). My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew will be visiting my brother-in-law's family in Reno right before the conference, so I’ll stop to hang out with them for a few days, too. It should be a fun time! And hopefully no new pandemics will start on this visit… 

Driving still feels safer than flying on the COVID front, anyway. And weird as it may sound, spending several days alone on the road may be just what I need. Or it may be mind-numbingly awful, or filled with bad weather. We’ll see. 

In general, I’m still a bit anxious and no doubt changed by this whole thing in ways I may not completely understand for years, but it does feel like I’m sort of finding a way back to … I won’t say “normal,” because normal wasn’t actually that great for me or for the world. But maybe I’m slowly getting back to a more expansive kind of life, one where I feel a bit more free to explore outwardly as well as inwardly, whether in epic road trips or thinking and writing about life, the universe, and everything. 

While I continue to fear that the world may not have changed for the better through all of this, I also continue hope that maybe a few of us have been taking notes and thinking carefully about how to go beyond “normal” to something that works a bit better for everyone.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Review of Reviews: February 2023


Although I still occasionally write a longer review, most of my book reviews have been shorter as of late. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm just appreciating brevity these days, so on that note, on to the reviews of books I've read in the last month or so!

Monday, February 13, 2023

New Article: “Pramāṇavāda and the Crisis of Skepticism in the Modern Public Sphere” by Amy Donahue (Cross-posted from the Indian Philosophy Blog)

Depiction of a debate between Maṇḍana Miśra and Śaṅkara with judge Ubhaya Bhāratī


I haven't cross-posted anything from the Indian Philosophy Blog in a long time, so here you go! This is about a great article from my colleague Dr. Amy Donahue. There's also some information about an upcoming conference panel where she and I will be presenting with Dr. Arindam Chakrabarti. Check it out! 

PS: You can find the original post on the Indian Philosophy Blog here.

Readers of the Indian Philosophy Blog may be interested to learn about a new article in the latest issue of the Journal of World Philosophies: “Pramāṇavāda and the Crisis of Skepticism in the Modern Public Sphere” by Amy Donahue (Kennesaw State University). The journal is open-access, and you can download the article here.

Here’s the abstract:

There is widespread and warranted skepticism about the usefulness of inclusive and epistemically rigorous public debate in societies that are modeled on the Habermasian public sphere, and this skepticism challenges the democratic form of government worldwide. To address structural weaknesses of Habermasian public spheres, such as susceptibility to mass manipulation through “ready-to-think” messages and tendencies to privilege and subordinate perspectives arbitrarily, interdisciplinary scholars should attend to traditions of knowledge and public debate that are not rooted in western colonial/modern genealogies, such as the Sanskritic traditions of pramāṇavāda and vāda. Attention to vādapramāṇavāda, and other traditions like them can inspire new forms of social discussion, media, and digital humanities, which, in turn, can help to place trust in democracy on foundations that are more stable than mere (anxious) optimism.

I enjoyed reading the article, and I found it extremely thought-provoking. I hope readers of this blog will check it out. Also, be sure to look for the forthcoming online debate platform that Donahue mentions on p. 5! Maybe we’ll make an announcement on the blog when it’s ready. Or reach out to Dr. Donahue if you’re interested in collaborating.

Here are a few of my questions for further discussion:

  1. Since pramāṇavāda was an elite discourse in historical South Asian societies and it requires some educational training (as Donahue notes on p. 4 and p. 5), can it do the work Donahue asks it to do?
  2. Are jalpa and vitaṇḍā so bad? While most Naiyāyikas have denigrated them as illegitimate as Donahue notes (p. 6), a few have distinguished “tricky” and “honest” forms of vitaṇḍā (Matilal 1998, 3). And then there’s Śrī Harṣa’s debate at the beginning of the Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya with a Naiyāyika opponent about whether one must accept the means of knowledge (pramāṇas) in order to enter into a debate about the pramāṇas (he mentions that one understands the discourse of the Madhyamakas and Cārvākas, perhaps thinking of Nāgārjuna and Jayarāśi; I will have more to say about the Cārvākas in an upcoming conference presentation—see information below). Matilal has also argued that vitaṇḍā can make sense as resulting in a “commitmentless denial” similar to an “illocutionary negation” (Matilal 1998, 50-56). In terms of a modern public sphere, could vitaṇḍā be a useful tactic for, say, pointing out the inherent contradictions of various harmful dogmatisms? Or maybe the deepest benefit of the vāda-jalpa-vitaṇḍā framework is a bit of self-awareness about which form of debate one is using?
  3. Is vāda necessarily more prone to discrediting false beliefs than a Habermasian public sphere or the type of marketplace of ideas in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty? (p. 11) My point is most definitely not that we have nothing to learn from Indian logic and debate. Far from it! But I wonder how effective vāda can be. After all, you don’t find much philosophical agreement in the classical Indian tradition, which is precisely why I find it so interesting!
  4. Is the archive (p. 12) essentially part of vāda, or is it a cultural artifact of the Indian and Tibetan tradition of commentaries? Was there something similar in Hellenistic, Roman, Islamic, and Byzantine traditions, which were also heavily commentarial?

My questions here are meant to be taken in the spirit of vāda to keep the conversation going. I hope others will read Donahue’s thought-provoking article and join this worthwhile conversation.

Also, if you will be attending the upcoming Central APA Conference in Denver, Colorado, USA on Feb. 22, 2023, you will have the chance to discuss these and other issues in person! 

Wed. Feb. 22, 2023, 1-4pm

2022 Invited Symposium: Vāda: Indian Logic and Public Debate 

Chair: Jarrod Brown (Berea College)


Amy Donahue (Kennesaw State University) “Vāda Project: A Non-Centric Method for Countering Disinformation”

Arindam Chakrabarti (University of Hawai’i at Manoa) “Does the Question Arise? Questioning the Meaning of Questions and the Definability of Doubt”

Ethan Mills (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)  “Cārvāka Skepticism about Inference: Historical and Contemporary Examples” 

(More information about the conference here, including a draft program that includes several other panels on Indian philosophy.)

Works Cited

Donahue, Amy. 2022. “Pramāṇavāda and the Crisis of Skepticism in the Public Sphere.” Journal of World Philosophies 7 (Winter 2022): 1-14.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna.  1998.  The Character of Logic in India.  Edited by Jonardon Ganeri and Heeraman Tiwari.  Albany: SUNY Press.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

March to Oblivion: The Long Walk by Stephen King


The Long Walk is powerful, engrossing stuff, up there with Pet Sematary in Stephen King's literary explorations of death. I'm glad I finally got to it in my low-key plan to read all of King's novels, and it may be favorite so far of the Bachman books originally published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

Like King himself, I take a walk almost every day (although never a "Long Walk" thankfully!). I did an experiment while reading this book: I walked one mile in 15 minutes to get a sense of how fast the characters have to walk (four miles per hour). It's a somewhat brisk pace that only deepened my sense of the stark horror of the novel. Or maybe the real horror is that, much as we try to ignore death or make it an object of entertainment (like the Crowd and King himself to some extent), we're all moving briskly toward death.

Carrie was King's first published novel, but this may be the first novel he wrote; he started it in the late 1960's, and it was published as a Bachman book in 1979. It's the work of a somewhat less polished, less mature writer (some of the prose early on feels a bit more clunky than King's later work), but King's brilliance is still there, as is his honest, unflinching look into the darker corners of human experience.

In a future dystopian America, complete with military dictatorship and Squads that disappear unruly citizens, a contest is held every year called The Long Walk. One hundred teenage boys begin walking at the US-Canada border in Maine, and they don't stop until all but one are dead. If they walk below four miles-per-hour (a brisk pace as my personal experiment attests), they are given a warning. After three warnings, they are summarily shot by soldiers. The winner (i.e., survivor) receives a large sum of money and a Prize of his choice. (Remember: this was written decades before The Hunger Games!)

The science fiction nerd in me wanted a little more information about how we got to dystopia and the history of the Long Walk, but given what happens when Stephen King tries to do info-heavy science fiction (The Tommyknockers, Under the Dome, etc.), maybe it's best some of this is unexplained.

Where King shines, as usual, are his characters and engrossing the reader. We have, in effect, a moving small town in Maine, and the boys are all the types of characters you'd expect from King (one is even wearing a chambray work shirt). There's the main character, Garraty, an all-American, if slightly nerdy, protagonist (perhaps like a young Stephen King), the wise-cracking McVries, the good-natured Scramm, the stoic Stebbins, the cruel Barkovitch, and several more, each more complex than I've explained (but not too many: thankfully King didn't try to introduce all 100 boys!).

I think for me what sets this one above King's other Bachman dystopia (The Running Man) is a more likable protagonist and a wider cast of characters; I cared about these characters and was engrossed in their experience, horrific though I knew it would be for all of them.

And this guides the reader into the deeper themes of the novel. One way to read this novel would be a commentary on the war in Vietnam, which was raging as King started writing the novel and ended not long before it was published. The young men are literally marching toward their deaths after being chosen by the state; nobody is sure why, but everybody is celebrating along the sides of the roads.

But even more deeply, aren't we all on a long walk of sorts? We all know what the destination will be even if we don't know precisely how or when we will arrive. Like the Crowd, we try to take our minds off it, or even make it a form of gruesome entertainment, but the walk goes on nonetheless. King includes a bit of existential dread among the boys here and there just in case you didn't get it, but it's never overbearing (existential, yes, but he's not quite Sartre or de Beauvoir).

You could read this as an engrossing tale of an imaginary dystopia, or you could read it as that and something deeper at the same time. I think King's ability to work so well at multiple levels, of which The Long Walk is maybe the best early example, is a big part of why Stephen King has been successful for almost 50 years.

See also my Goodreads review.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Upcoming Talk and Recent Indian Philosophy Blog Posts


I'm on sabbatical this semester, which means I'm spending more time on the research side of my job. Here are a few professional happenings on that front.

I have a few other things coming up in the new few months, including in-person conferences in Denver and San Francisco. The San Francisco conference will include the inaugural panel of the new Science Fiction and Philosophy Society!

I had to promise my university I would produce a book proposal for a new book project during my sabbatical (likely focusing on Vasubandhu and Ratnakīrti), so I may have details on that in a few months. Stay tuned!

Sympathy for the Devil: Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey


I think I like the concept more than the execution of Jacqueline Carey's Banewreaker, but overall it's an interesting read.

Monday, January 16, 2023

MLK Day and Kindred: History is Still With Us

MLK mural at the MLK Day Parade and March, Chattanooga, TN (Jan. 16, 2023)


Today has been another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States. In the past I've written posts including "MLK Day 2020: Labor, Love, and Community" and "So You're Going to Quote MLK?"  I thought of the former post a few weeks ago when Republican Congressman Chip Roy quoted King during one of the tragicomic votes for US House Speaker.

This year I attended the 2023 MLK Day Parade and March here in Chattanooga, Tennessee with my union, United Campus Workers. (See photo above).

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Chattacon 2023 Is This Weekend!


It's the middle of January here in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which means it's time for Chattacon! This long-running con (it's a few months older than I am!) celebrates science fiction, fantasy, horror, comics, games, cosplay, and all things nerdy every January. It's a small, friendly con (usually a few hundred participants) that I've been attending regularly since 2015. This year it runs THIS WEEKEND, Jan. 13-15, 2023.

And as I have been for the past few years, I will be an official Chattacon panelist! Here are the panels I will be on with links to the panel descriptions:

I will also attend a bunch of other stuff. You can see the full programming schedule on the Chattacon website.  Maybe I will see you there!

I'm always excited for Chattacon, but after an online con in 2021 and the anxiety of the Omicron surge last year, I'm hoping maybe I can relax a bit this year, especially in the best con suite I've ever experienced at any con (they probably can't mention it for legal reasons, but there may be beer and rumors of beer...). The con is asking people to wear masks, but I don't think there's a vaccination requirement this year. Obviously COVID is still an issue (rumors of the pandemic's death have been greatly exaggerated), but our local numbers (even the wastewater testing) aren't anywhere near as bad as they were at this time last year and I'm fully up-to-date on all my vaccines and boosters, so I'm hoping I won't have as much anxiety about attending as I did last year. I'll still test before and after just to be safe and responsible.

Well, I'd better make sure I have some notes for what I'm going to say on the panels, but if you are interested in more information or would like to buy a badge, check out the Chattacon website. 

Onward to Chattacon!

Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Cosmic Grind: Gateway by Frederick Pohl

Frederick Pohl's Gateway is a weirder book than I was expecting. I may change my mind after I think some more about what it was saying and what it was lampooning, so let's call this review a draft (technically a third draft).

But before I get into it, a quick news item! I will be discussing Gateway and other classic 20th century science fiction at Chattacon 48 (Jan. 13-15, 2023) here in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I will be a panelist! Maybe I will see you there to carry on the discussion in person!