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!
Saturday, March 25, 2023
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)|
11 March 2023
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 vāda, pramāṇavāda, 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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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!
- 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.)
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.
Monday, January 30, 2023
"Unfrozen Eons Drown the Future": My New Short Story on The Weird Tales Podcast!
My short story "Unfrozen Eons Drown the Future" is now live on The Weird Tales Podcast! You can listen to it on most podcast services. Check out the details here.
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.
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 will be giving an online talk tomorrow for Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, India (details above; the talk is online, so I will be in my home office). The talk is called "Classical Indian Skepticism: Lessons for the 21st Century," and it will be on a lot of the topics I discussed in the conclusion of my book Three Pillars of Skepticism in Classical India: Nāgārjuna, Jayarāśi, and Śrī Harṣa.
- I recently published a few blog posts over at the Indian Philosophy Blog praising recent work by Sonam Kachru and questioning some of my own previous interpretations of the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu.
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:
- Predicting 2022: How Did Science Fiction Movies Do? (Fri. 6pm)
- SF vs. Fantasy vs. Horror: Philosophy of the Multiverse (Fri. 8pm; this was my idea and is probably the panel where I'll most earn my keep as the resident philosophy professor)
- What is Science Fiction? (Fri. 9pm)
- Scientology and Science Fiction: What's It All About? (Sat. 1pm)
- Hitchhiker's Guide the Galaxy (Sun. 10am; not on the schedule yet due to Vogon bureucracy, no doubt, but I will need a Pangalactic Gargle Blaster for a Sunday morning panel)
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!