31 March 2009


See that feather in the sky?
Wind fanned the filaments
of a once mere vapor trail.

This was actually a few weeks ago, but I never got around to writing anything down about the sight until just before political philosophy today. I'm pretty sure that this isn't much like the poem I had in my head on the very day, but from what I remember, that one was just too awkward (jet-steam vapor trails? even saying that in my head is painful), so I suspect that this one is at least slightly better.

Inquire Further

30 March 2009

Is that like botany?

Random fragment from a dream, where someone told me that she and my dad were both majoring in "foliola". The closest English equivalent I can find is foliole:

1. a leaflet, as of a compound leaf.
2. a small leaflike organ or appendage.

That's the only bit of the dream I can remember now.

Hmmm... folia is also close, and it seems to be the name of a melody which gave its name to a particular chord progression. Or, well, just read the link.

For the record, my dad actually majored in physics.

Inquire Further

28 March 2009

Ice and Snow at City Creek

More pictures!

I don't think I'd ever seen branches that were simply encased in ice. Presumably the flow from the creek generates a bit of spray, and, if it's cold enough, the spray then freezes onto the branch.

Three more below:

It almost looks like the water was trying to form giant snowflakes as it froze.

I just like the peaceful feeling of this one. I may have to print out a large version of it.

And here we have an itty-bitty waterfall coming from underneath the ice.

Inquire Further

27 March 2009

Hiking Oddities

Okay, I didn't make it to Salt Lake this week. The day I felt up to driving was miserable weather. Today would have been good weather, but I wasn't up to a two and a half hour drive. Then I thought maybe I'd go to Idaho Falls instead, only I'll be going up there tomorrow anyway, so then I decided to go hiking up at City Creek. It's not the ideal time of year for it, as the snow is just melting in many places, and the mud is nearly ankle deep in some of those places—usually just tread deep, but occasionally ankle deep. Still, it was well worth it. For now, I just want to post the two strange sitessights I came across, but I've got lots of other ice and scenery pictures that I'd like to put up eventually.

This one looks an awful lot like a skeletal foot, give or take a few digits, but it's really just a branch. This was on the upper part of the path, which is now labelled the "Bench" trail.

There were a bunch of new signs up, labeling paths and such, but this one had me puzzled. It's very definitely not marking a call box. My best guess is that it's where the 911 people would like you to wait for them if there's an emergency. Presumably the person who is not injured would climb up to the sign, wait for the 911 people, and then lead them to whomever is injured.

On the one hand, all the new signs are rather nice, so that it's easy to tell which part of the trail(s) you're headed for (they criss-cross back and forth a lot up there). On the other, I find them a bit irritating, as I rather like the wilderness feel of the place.

Inquire Further

25 March 2009

Hope, Fear and Attachment

I decided this was too long to post as a comment here, but it is a continuation of thoughts begun at Café Press. I actually started on this several days ago, and only now made it back to edit what I had written. Essentially it began as a discussion of the relationship between hope and fear, and that led into the question of whether hope itself had any intrinsic value.

What I realize now is that there are at least two ways that the word "hope" is used. One is in reference to a specific event. "I hope that X will happen." The other is very vague and ill-defined, but it generally has no object. "I have hope." I think it might be described as a positive expectation directed toward the future, but without any further specifics attached. A sort of "trust" in the future. Unlike hope's counterpart, fear, there doesn't seem to be a more specific word for "generalized undirected hope," whereas we have "anxiety" for "generalized undirected fear."

Primarily I'm criticizing the first kind of hope, the "hope that X will happen." That kind of hope is automatically associated with the "fear that X will not happen." They can be distinguished, but they cannot be separated. They are at opposite ends of an emotional teeter-totter. As Heidegger noted, however, hope and fear can only be felt for uncertain events. As soon as something is certain, there is no more room for hope or fear. We know whether or not X has happened. So long as X remains uncertain, it is possible to have hopes or fears associated with it. My opinion is, why bother?

Seriously. What is the point of hoping you can keep your job? If you want to keep your job, do it well, don't annoy any of the people who make the decisions, etc. etc. What is the point of fearing that you'll be in a car accident on the way to work? Wear your seatbelt, pay attention, don't drive while impaired, etc. etc., and you minimize your chances. Hope and fear just get in the way of doing what is necessary. In the worst cases, they are paralyzing. Accept the possibility of losing your job, getting in a car wreck, or what-have-you, take appropriate action, and move on. What do fear and hope add to this?

Of course, fear and hope will sometimes arise of themselves in relation to a situation. That's fine. That's what emotions do. The problems come when people become attached to the hope or the fear. That's when it can escalate and, eventually, result in paralysis. The stronger forms of hope are almost like a drug, so much so that the intermittent bouts of fear almost seem worth it if we can experience the high of that hope once more. But this can only occur if we do not let go of that hope and that fear. Accept that X might or might not happen, and act to increase the chances of whichever outcome you most favor. Hope is nothing more than attachment to a specific, uncertain outcome, and it is more often harmful than helpful.

The only exception I can see is in a situation that is so miserable, so devoid of any chance of a positive outcome, that hope for something better is the only thing that might keep a person from giving up. In that case, and that case alone, the manic-side of hope can be useful, but it will be balanced by a similarly frantic fear.

So, what about that other kind of hope? The kind which has no particular object? I'm going to call it "positive expectation" just to distinguish it from the other form of hope. It might be expressed in the sentiment, "Things will work out for the best." Or maybe, "The future will be better than the past." Used in the mildest sense, as a means of coping with unfortunate events, this has its place. But becoming too attached even to this form of hope can cause problems. Things don't always work out for the best; the future is often worse than the past. So long as this is recognized, allowing positive expectation to arise is less likely to cause problems than is the more particular form of hope. However, it has as its counterpart anxiety. The more strongly we become attached to positive expectation, the worse the anxiety will be when it arises. I would still advocate a simple acceptance of possibilities. It's possible to prefer one possibility over another, and act accordingly, without becoming attached to that possibility.

Non-attachment is not indifference. It is simply recognizing that we cannot control everything. It is acknowledging our limits even as we seek to find a way beyond them. A way will be found, or it won't. X will happen or it will not. Non-attachment is, most simply, recognizing these possibilities. It means starting from where you actually are and doing what you actually can. Hope blinds us to the possibility of failure while fear blinds us to the possibility of success. They see-saw back and forth, and up and down, without bringing anything of use to the table. The real result will most likely be somewhere in between the most-hoped-for and the most-feared outcomes.

Inquire Further

24 March 2009

Winter (temporarily)

After our refreshingly springy first day of spring, the cold front did indeed move in... there was about 4 inches of snow on my front porch on Monday morning. So I haven't accomplished much in the garden/yard work department this week. I've been working on cleaning instead, which in large part involves dealing with things that I've been ignoring (like a nice little cupboard that is meant to be hung on a wall, not sitting on a floor where it can be knocked over).

And my mom did change Skitzi's name. To Snickers. I'm not entirely convinced this is an improvement, but she's not my cat. Apparently the biggest problem for Mom was that she couldn't remember the name Skitzi. I've got to admit that I find this entirely puzzling, and can only conclude that my skill in learning languages was not inherited from her.

As for travel, I'm hoping to drive down to the Salt Lake area on Thursday and stock up on some things at Whole Foods Market. There's a Barnes and Noble next door to it, and a few other interesting shops nearby, so I'll probably make a day of it. I was considering going tomorrow, but between the tires in my trunk and the "70% chance of precipitation" vs. "10%" for Thursday, I figure I'd be better off waiting. Most of the snow from Monday had melted off today, until another half-inch or so fell tonight. With any luck, Thursday will be a melt-off day rather than a re-deposit day.

Inquire Further

23 March 2009

On Liberty

Sometime last week I finished reading On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill. Excellent, excellent reading. For a bit of background, Mill was a Utilitarian, meaning that his system of ethics emphasizes maximizing total happiness for a society. While there are problems with pure Utilitarianism, that's not my focus here. It's not obvious from most parts of this book that Mill was using Utilitarian principles, so it can be read and interpreted in other ways.

"Look for the innocent victim." That was Pelletti's summary of Mill's views, meaning that if a behavior harms no one, there is no reason for society or the government to restrict it. Mill takes it further, arguing that if a behavior harms a person with that person's informed consent, there is still no justification for restricting it. Mill includes freedom of expression and lifestyle in these. In fact, Mill just might be more radical in this direction than I am. One issue that came up in class is where to draw the line for "informed consent." Can there be informed consent if a drug is instantly addictive to, say, a quarter of the people who try it? Maybe if there were a way to screen out those who would be instantly addicted, but otherwise, it doesn't seem to hold up.

Interestingly, Mill would not object to gun licensing and registration, at least it seems safe to infer this from his discussion of purchasing poison. I'm going from memory, but essentially he says that there is no need to restrict access to poisons, but that it would be acceptable to require people to sign for them and to state the intended purpose of use (killing rats, for instance) in the presence of a witness. That way there would be both a paper trail and a material witness should the poison be used in some other manner. It seems intended to serve the same purpose as our seven-day-waiting-period: make someone less likely to purchase the dangerous item and use it in the heat of the moment. Of course, certain types of people will then just steal the item, but that's a different problem.

Overall, I think Mill's principle is a good one to think about in any situation. I'm not sure that it's enough for every situation, but it's certainly good to consider whether there is an innocent victim for an action before attempting to restrict it. As a final note before I lose coherence, Mill's principles fall under "freedom from". That is, the government should not intervene without good reason; all actions not specifically restricted are permissible. Highly recommended reading (and the full text is available online).

Inquire Further

21 March 2009

It's Spring (Temporarily)

I managed to get half my garden cleared out yesterday afternoon: cornstalks pulled out and stacked, weed mat pulled up and stakes gathered into a pot, semi-whole weed mat placed over the irritating weedy grass patch near the gate, and black raspberry branches planted. Yes, planted. They'd sprouted roots over the winter after being cut from the main plant, so I put them by the back fence. I may dig up their parent plant, as it is determined to be a climber, and that's just not a good place for a climber.

I've also nearly finished digging the grass out of the bulb patch. And the bulbs that I wasn't sure of have turned out to be hyacinth. For some reason, I had thought the daffodils were the hyacinth, but the big buds started becoming visible, and they had the many-flowered-heads of hyacinth, which, by process of elimination, meant that the somewhat grassy leaves were the daffodils.

Tonight, a cold front is due to move in, bringing with it rain and/or snow... I'm hoping it will be decent enough for me to finish cleaning out the garden and get the peas planted this week. I'm not sure if I'm going to plant corn this year. It takes up a lot of room, plus I keep getting that nasty fungus in it (huitlacoche aka corn smut). Yes, some consider it a delicacy. I consider it just plain nasty.

ADDENDUM: I just found some useful information on controlling corn smut. The two bits of advice most relevant to me are below:

Planting tolerant cultivars is the best control. Cultivars that show improved resistance over two years of testing in the Columbia Basin include: 'Elite', 'Chase', 'Conquest', 'Eliminator', 'Diva', and 'Marvel'.


Plant before May 15th.

The varieties that I've been planting are actually listed as some of the most susceptible to the fungus: jubilee and any corn that matures early. Corn that matures later is, for whatever reason, less susceptible. At any rate, if I can find some of the resistant varieties, I may try planting some and see what happens.

Inquire Further

20 March 2009

Pot - Kettle

The robe of speculative cobwebs, embroidered with flowers of rhetoric, steeped in the dew of sickly sentiment, this transcendental robe in which the German Socialists wrapped their sorry "eternal truths," all skin and bone, served to wonderfully increase the sale of their goods amongst such a public.

~Karl Marx (Communist Manifesto)

We're reading the Communist Manifesto for Political Philosophy, and this quote alone makes reading the thing worthwhile. Why? Because the entire work is little more than "speculative cobwebs, embroidered with flowers of rhetoric, steeped in the dew of sickly sentiment." What little "evidence" Marx attempted to present for his position was largely anecdotal and speculative. If it was a Wikipedia article, someone would have gone through and put "citation needed" on most paragraphs.

The part that makes sense is the desire to do something about the horrid condition of the working class in this time period. With little to no restraint on pure capitalism, their condition was little better than slavery ... and possibly worse than some forms of slavery. I sympathize there, but Marx's supposed solution is never explained sufficiently. Essentially, he claims that it is inevitable that the proletariat will rise up against the bourgeoisie ... then the proletariat will institute a series of reforms which do away with classes ... then there will be a perfect society. The end. He does list some specific types of reform that should be instituted, but then acts as if it is self-evident that these reforms will bring about perfection in society. He talks about it in terms of natural laws, as if such a sequence of events were completely and utterly inevitable.

The other big problem with this, and the one that would come back to eat Communism away from the inside, is Marx's Rousseau-inspired assumption that he can treat the proletariat as a single, unified entity. Now, you would think that since, at that time, the one Rousseau-inspired revolution, i.e. the French Revolution, had led to complete and utter chaos and despotism, that Marx would have known better than to trust Rousseau's principles. According to Rousseau, there was no need for checks and balances in a true democratic government, as the People would not vote to harm Itself, any more than a hand would vote to harm a foot on the same body... Unfortunately, the "People" are not truly one body. There are diverse interests across the board. Now, Rousseau did realize this, and allowed for it by requiring uniform education and property holding for everyone in his ideal society. How this is to be brought about from a state of complete inequality is never made clear, but Marx clearly thinks a simple Revolution is all that is needed.

Of course, we know how that ended. Class antagonism didn't end; it was just no longer acknowledged. The government was (claimed to be) the People! The People were the government! So... why were they starving? Why were the working classes of East Berlin so eager to get away from the system that a Wall had to be built to keep them in? Orwell's Animal Farm summed up the result rather nicely, even if it ignored the genuinely good intentions that began the movement.

On different note, a few years back I read In Exile from the Land of Snows, describing experiences of Tibetans through the Chinese conquest. One oddity was that the Maoists seemed to be following a recipe book, expecting to bring about utopia. In particular, they instituted something like a bourgeois class for the express purpose of having something for the proletariat to rebel against. No, I'm not making that up. The reason for this, er, Pythonesque approach became clear after reading Marx's Manifesto. He insists that first the bourgeoisie must establish itself, then that will result in the creation of a proletariat class, and finally the proletariat will become so disenchanted that it will rebel. Since China had started in the "aristocratic epoch," it had to move into the "bourgeois" epoch before the proletariat could rebel, and, er, somehow or other, create a utopia.

And that's the biggest problem with the Manifesto. It posits the Revolution, suggests a few reforms, but there is no indication of how this is to accomplish all the miracles Marx expects. The conclusion is assumed to be obvious and inevitable, which would suggest that the plan's failure was also obvious and inevitable.

Final thought: Before reading the Manifesto, I had considered Communism to be "One of those ideas that sounds good on paper, but doesn't actually work." After reading it, I have to say it doesn't even sound good on paper. So I'm going to revise that to, "One of those ideas that can be made to sound good by a persuasive speaker, but doesn't actually work." When only the goals are described, it can sound quite promising. When the methods are included... it's a bit like someone saying he's going to fly to the moon on a chair with 47 rockets strapped to it, and that his reaching the moon is therefore inevitable.

Inquire Further

19 March 2009


I've had something resembling a cold this week, but without any significant nasal activity. Today I just feel lousy. Last night I felt like death-warmed-over. Lousy is an improvement, and hopefully means I'm past the worst of it.

I've been digging the grass out of my bulb-garden, and it looks like 90% of the new bulbs came up. None of the ones that had been sitting out for a year did, but that's not a huge surprise. I no longer remember what all I planted, but I recognize tulips, hyacinth and daffodils in the sprouts. There's something else that seems to be starting with a huge bud rather than leaves, and I have no clue what it might be. And there are also some leaves that I think might be iris. I can't remember if I planted any iris. Interestingly, working in the soil has tended to make me feel better, at least until I burn off too much energy.

Sadly, rototilling the area reinvigorated the grass, so I've had a lot to dig out. When it's clear everything is up, I'll start putting some weedmat around to discourage too much of a recurrence. I think I'll have to cut it into narrow strips and put it across each row and column that way. Trying to cut holes for pre-existing plants ... might be doable for someone else, but I've tried and I always make a mess of it. Still, it will be nice to have a huge mass of flowers there. In the empty spaces, I may try to put a few more hollyhocks, or some other hardy perennial.

Inquire Further

17 March 2009

Skitzi Pics

Here she is:

And my mom definitely wants to change her name, as people seem to equate it with "schizo."

Inquire Further

16 March 2009

Me Heap Progressive

Via Thoughts in a Haystack, I came across this quiz that purports to tell you how "progressive" you are. As progressive is no where defined on the site, this probably isn't particularly meaningful, but I scored 340/400, compared to the national average of 209.5. Apparently liberal democrats scored an average of 247.1 ... No wonder I'm not overly fond of either party (but I'll take semi-progressive democrats over ridiculously reactionary republicans any day).

Inquire Further

15 March 2009


I've got a new baby sister! Sort of. My mom adopted a cat yesterday at the animal shelter's adoption day. The cat's about one year old, and has a rather sad story. She's a "foreclosure kitty", meaning that her owners lost their house and had to move into an apartment and, well, the apartment didn't allow pets. Still, I'm not sure that the cat isn't better off, as these people apparently had a rather large dog that liked to chase her around and they declawed the cat. I'm not big on declawing anyway, but declawing a cat that has to fend off a large dog? That's just nasty.

So she's called "Skitzi" (temporarily; I'm hoping Mom will change that) because she was rather skittish, or so her foster-owner said. But she's actually much calmer than most cats I've known. Yeah, she howled through the car ride, but as soon as she got into Mom's house, she was just interested in everything. She hid once or twice, but never for long, and she came right out under very minor encouragement (gentle noises, or rubbing fingers together). She hid a bit more thoroughly when she was left alone for an hour*, but, again, came right back out once she figured out we had come back.

I wound up going shopping for a few basic supplies for Mom (supposedly so she could practice her offertory at her church, but she actually just stayed at home and played with the cat). So I got her two sets of bowls, a kitty-condo, a blanket, and a bed. She has thusfar ignored all but the bowl with the food in it. ^/^

I hope to have picture to post of her soon, but she's described as a "tabby point Siamese", almost certainly not a purebred, and likely all the more gorgeous for it. Here are what the purebreds look like. Skitzi has a face much like this cat and a body with patterning like this one. Slightly cross the eyes of the first cat and you'll have a pretty good image of my mom's new cat.

*She found a way inside the couch with built-in recliners. Ah, cats!

Inquire Further

14 March 2009

Simple Way to Have a Koi Pond

A few weeks back, I ran across the koi pond screensaver while my mom had a coupon for 10% off of "anything that would fit in this bag" at Office Max. I had to buy it. I've often thought that if I lived in a warm enough climate, I'd like to have a koi pond in the back yard. Here you'd either have to have a place to keep them in the winter, or heat the pond, or just replace them every summer, none of which appeals to me. The screensaver is absolutely beautiful, and allows you to take screenshots. A few of my favorites are below:

This one is actually cut down from the full image, because I particularly like this bit. The other images are full screenshots.

I have a few slight complaints. It would be nice if there were an option to choose which pond would be visible and/or how long it will be before it switches to a new pond. As is, the software is automatically set to randomly cycle through all its ponds with no user input. It would also be nice if you could specify how many and/or what kind of fish would be visible, the frequency of dragonfly appearances, and so forth. On the other hand, not being able to specify those does make it a bit more like a real koi pond. However, no real koi pond that I have ever seen has such crystal clear sparkling water! I'm not sure koi can live in that type of water. I realize it wouldn't sell very well if the water looked dingy and murky, and the images are quite beautiful, so this is more of an observation than a complaint.

Inquire Further

13 March 2009

Classic Bumper Sticker

I saw this the other day, and almost busted up laughing ... not necessarily a good thing, as I was driving at the time:

Militant Agnostic
I don't know, and you don't either

Inquire Further

12 March 2009


windows reflect
glowing in shadow
bright squares on grey

Sometime last year, I first noticed these strange orange-ish squares in the shadows of trees in the street in front of the library (enough prepositions for ya?). It took me a while, but I finally realized that the setting sun was reflecting off the windows of the library, and that light resulted in the bright spots within the shadows. Today, the first two lines came to me, and I liked the texture well enough to work on finding a third line to finish it.

Inquire Further

Eccentricity of Orbit

A post at Think Buddha reminded me of the Wordle applet, so here's a snapshot of word use on my blog. It's pretty obvious that it's going from the most recent posts rather than the whole blog; otherwise "Sartre" would not loom so large.

Unfortunately, the word "eccentricity" doesn't seem to appear anywhere, so I'm fixing that. This isn't quite as random as it sounds. John Wilkins posted a quote from John Stuart Mill about eccentricity that is well worth pondering.

Inquire Further

11 March 2009


Over at cat macros, this image has been making the rounds (at least three captions so far). This one is just perfect for the cat's expression, though, and aptly describes how I feel some days.

Inquire Further

No Exit

Apparently we weren't responsible for it until next week, but I got Sartre's play No Exit read this afternoon anyway. The full text is available online if you don't mind giving scribd some basic information (fyi: I haven't had any junk mail from them; just one, solitary, registration confirmation message).

It's...strange. If you've ever heard the phrase, "Hell is other people," well, it comes from this play. These three people find themselves in a place which they know is hell, yet it's nothing like the sort of hell people usually imagine. It's a room, furnished in what the characters all agree is hideous fashion. These three people are to spend eternity stuck in this unchanging room with only each other for comfort. There's a door leading to the outer corridor, but, as soon as it opens, they all feel a strong dread of actually leaving the room, even though in the moment before they were all desperate to get away from one another.

It's...interesting, in a macabre sort of way. I don't think I'd say that I liked it, but I found it fascinating and worth reading, so I can't say that I disliked it, either.

Levenson has an interesting idea about Sartre, and all of the 20th century existentialists, actually. He said that they were all wounded, in such a way that they could never completely appreciate what he calls "the Good", yet the wound was such that they were better able to perceive the path to "the Good". I'm still pondering this, but I think there may be some truth to it (though I would use different terminology; "the Good" is how Plato's ideal is usually translated).

Inquire Further

08 March 2009

Lucky Find (and Unlucky Breaks)

In IF yesterday, I wandered over to the used bookstore that's more-or-less across the street from Barnes and Noble. I stumbled across an edition of the Tao te Ching that includes the full Chinese character text (or, well, one of them; differing versions exist) as well as lists of meanings for each character. I haven't had much of a chance to play with it yet, but it looks to be a good resource. The reviews at Amazon are mostly favorable, with a few decrying the very idea of providing a list for ignorant fools to create their own translations (at least, that's the impression I got from them). But that's not the point. I think just about anyone interested in the Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) has multiple traslations, and a resource for comparing them to see where and, potentially, why they differ is quite useful. I do wish that the transliterations were pinyin rather than Wade Giles, but there is another place that also lists pinyin.

As for the unlucky breaks... shortly before I got to taiji yesterday, Don slipped on some frost or ice and hurt his knee. He decided to go through with lessons, but just watch for the most part (though he did do some of the warm-ups from a bench). It was a good session, not least because I finally remembered to bring him a translation that my Chinese instructor had done of a poem on a taiji camp shirt (I'll probably post the gist of it at some point). We also worked on breathing. In most martial arts, there is a very definite emphasis on exhaling into a punch or a kick, etc. Cheng Man Ch'ing, however, advocated the opposite. For a long time, Don has been teaching the more traditional breathing, but a recent online conversation with Bill Phillips and some playing around we've been doing with the idea of filling with energy has him reconsidering it. So we tried it that way.

One interesting thing. I'd noted last fall that there were places that my breathing seemed to have switched from what I thought it was "supposed" to be. I let it alone and just watched it, because I remembered that there had been confusion about Cheng Man Ch'ing's actual breathing instructions. Turns out that I had naturally swapped over to the "inhale into the push" mode, at least in some places. In other places, I'm having to work at it and concentrate on it, but it feels better that way. Also, Don said that it put a roundness into my form that he'd been trying to figure out how to instill in me.

At Bataan's camp a few summers ago, I remember being confused when he characterized the inhale as "yang". I disagreed, but as I thought about it, I decided that he was referring to the process of the inhale, while I had been thinking about the beginning of the inhale. At the beginning of the inhale, the body is yin (emptied of air), then during the inhale it becomes more yang (filling with air) until it is full yin yang at the end of the inhale and the beginning of the exhale. Then the exhale starts yang but becomes yin as the body empties itself of air. By inhaling into a posture, the body is at its maximum yang point as the push/punch/etc. is completed. Exhaling into the posture empties the body, making it progressively more yin. In more practical terms, by inhaling, the body maintains its roundness and suppleness even as it's expelling energy. Exhaling, though, tends to result in the roundness collapsing, making you more vulnerable.

Don seems to think this applies only to the form and not to push-hands... I'm not so certain yet. However, due to his knee, we didn't get to play at push-hands any yesterday (and I was the only one who made it up to class). I suspect that the knee was worse than he was letting on, as he shooed me away early. I haven't heard yet how bad it was, but he was hoping he hadn't torn a ligament. Watching him yesterday, I concluded that he's at least as stubborn as I am. I wouldn't have been offended if he'd simply apologized and cancelled class to have someone look at his knee, but he struggled through most of it. The fact that he did decide to call it quits early means it has to have been bothering him pretty badly.

AM EDIT: Fixed a rather obvious typo above. Look for the strikeout.

Inquire Further

07 March 2009

Sartre: Bad Faith

We start on Sartre's Being and Nothingness on Wednesday. So far, I like Heidegger better. Yes, he's more difficult to read, but he also makes more sense. Every so often, I got a sense of depth from Sartre, but mostly it seemed extraordinarily shallow. I also found it irritating that it wasn't always clear when his examples were supposed to be general and when they were specifically intended to illustrate his understanding of "Bad Faith." I'm currently working on the assumption that they were all specific to Bad Faith, as otherwise I have to conclude that Sartre is an idiot.

For the record, my preferences thus far are (1) Heidegger, (2) Husserl, (3+) Sartre. I felt less of an urge to write on Heidegger because I agreed with 90% of the parts that made sense to me. Another 5% I reservedly agreed with, and the other 5% made me uneasy, as it seemed to presage his slide into fascism. Anyway, my journal entry for this bit of Sartre is below the fold. (FYI: I'm not going to hunt through and fix all the italics that got formatted out in the pasting.)

Sartre’s “Bad Faith”

I liked the first few paragraphs and the last section. The rest… left me puzzled, irritated, and somewhat amused.

“In irony a man annihilates what he posits within one and the same act; he leads us to believe in order not to be believed; he affirms to deny and denies to affirm; he creates a positive object but it has no being other than its nothingness.”

I like the concept of an ironic statement annihilating itself even as it is uttered. I’m not sure this is how I would characterize irony, but I can’t think of anything better at the moment.

“Take the example of a woman who has consented to go out with a particular man for the first time. She knows very well the intentions which the man who is speaking to her cherishes regarding her.” … “If he says to her, ‘I find you so attractive!’ she disarms this phrase of its sexual background.”

I find this entire discussion very strange, as I cannot conceive of not analyzing both my behavior and the behavior of the “Other” as it transpired. The passage reads as if Sartre is generalizing this encounter to all such encounters, yet later (S. III) he backtracks and indicates that there is a chance for Authentic behavior as well as behavior in Bad Faith. (picking up Heideggerian habits of capitalization…) And I’m not entirely sure what Sartre means by “transcendence” throughout this selection. It seems to have negative connotations.

“To prove that I am right would be to recognize that I can be wrong.”

Of course! That’s the whole point! If it were impossible to be wrong, no proofs, or even discussion, would be needed.

“Being sad means first to make oneself sad” … “There is no inertia in consciousness.”

I disagree completely and utterly (unless he is referring solely to the case of Bad Faith; this is unclear in the passage). Sadness arises. Sometimes it stays awhile. Sometimes it can be persuaded to leave. Sometimes it persists despite all efforts to convince it to leave, and I would call that inertia.

“But how do we distinguish my consciousness (of) being sad from sadness? Is it not all one?”

Sartre never provides a clear answer to this question, instead veering off into a discussion of Husserl and the Other. But it is possible to be sad without being conscious that one is sad. Sadness can arise, color everything in perception, and not be perceived until some time after it has arisen. Then one realizes why everything has seemed flat and stale.

“as soon as we posit ourselves as a certain being, by a legitimate judgment, based on inner experience or correctly deduced from a priori or empirical premises, then by that very positing we surpass this being—and that not toward another being but toward emptiness, toward nothing.” … “In introspection I try to determine exactly what I am, to make up my mind to be my true self without delay—even though it means consequently to set about searching for ways to change myself.”

I have a feeling that Sartre has a negative view of “nothing” in mind, rather than the more positive “wu wei” of Chinese thought. And what of the process of merely observing identity unfold without seeking to influence it or force it? If I assume Sartre is only referring to Bad Faith, I can make sense of this passage. Otherwise…

“The man who confesses that he is evil has exchanged his disturbing ‘freedom-for-evil’ for an inanimate character of evil”

This sounds like Heidegger’s notion of “idle talk”. That is, by naming what he is, the evildoer tries to lessen its import, turn it into something “average” and of no significance.

“In truth, I have not persuaded myself; to the extent that I could be so persuaded, I have always been so.”

Er, didn’t Sartre just say that there was no inertia in consciousness? And isn’t this inertia?

“To believe is to know that one believes, and to know that one believes is no longer to believe. Thus to believe is not to believe any longer because that is only to believe”

It is possible to believe something without realizing that you believe it. For example, I believe that there are no invisible giant spiders hanging over my head, though I didn’t know that I believed it until I formulated the thought. And, yes, I am now considering the possibility that there are invisible giant spiders hanging over my head, and I still don’t believe that this is the case (though, in fact, I can’t prove it; a la Quine, I could modify my description of the invisible giant spiders to justify any lack of empirical evidence, if I was so-minded, to preserve the possibility that they were there).

“Thus belief is a being which questions its own being, which can realize itself only in its destruction, which can manifest itself to itself only by denying itself.” … “one never wholly believes what one believes.”

Here, I think he’s trying to get at the notion that to assert, “I believe X” is to implicitly acknowledge the possibility of “not X”. However, I think Sartre’s characterization goes farther than this. (once again, unless he is specifically referring only to Bad Faith, which he never really makes clear)

“But the first act of bad faith is to flee what it cannot flee, to flee what it is.”

And finally something I can agree with without reservation. Denying-what-is is the first step away from that-which-is.

Inquire Further

05 March 2009

Implicit Bias?

I was just playing around some more with the implicit association research site, and got one that gave information about a group of people and one particular member of the group. There were two implicit association tests: one for the individual and one for the group. Watching my own responses, I came to the conclusion that, on the first one, I had trouble on the switchover not due to any actual associations, but because the task was slightly different from the others I'd done. There was only one extra category besides "good" and "bad". On every other test I'd come across, there were two categories to sort through. So on the first switchover, it felt awkward. On the second, it felt perfectly natural, as I now had practice at it. However, the effect was apparently slight:

Your data suggest a slight automatic association of (named individual) with Bad.
Your data suggest a slight automatic association of (named group) with Good.

I'm not including the names as it does not seem appropriate for me to do so. As far as I could tell, they were simply made up strings of random syllables, but perhaps there was some intended significance in the syllabic choices.

Final thoughts: I hope that they don't always start this particular setup with the individual in the same category, as I suspect that most people will find the first changeover awkward and this awkwardness would introduce bias.

Inquire Further

03 March 2009

Implicitly Updating

I had a student call me this morning and ask if he could take the test on a different day because he had not had time to do the homework yet. I suppose I could be refreshed by the honesty ... mostly I'm just disgusted that he thinks he merits an exception. I strongly suspect that this student is fresh out of high school, as he often refers to our 8:00 class as "first period."

Anyway, I ran across the Implicit Association Test via a link from a link from Evolving Thoughts, and I've been playing around with it every so often. Most of the results haven't surprised me much. Here's what I came up with tonight:

Your data suggest a moderate automatic association of Religion with False and Science with True.

Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Change compared to Preserve.

What this kind of test does is pair something like "good" and "bad" with various concepts/pictures/etc, and see if there's a difference in your response time for the different pairings. So in the second instance, I was slower when "Preserve" was paired with "Good" than I was when "Change" was paired with "Good."

I think I would have gotten a "strong" automatic association of Religion with False had "Buddhism" not been one of the religion words. I don't really think of Buddhism as a religion. Yes, there are some sects which are very definitely and thoroughly religious, but there are others that are mainly philosophical, and that's where my interests are. I had to consciously think to remember that Buddhism was supposed to go in the "religion" category. I don't think of it as a science, either... Best comparison I can think of is if "Existentialism" or "Platonism" or "Utilitarianism" were placed in the "religion" category.

AM UPDATE: I just ran across an article from Mind Hacks discussing the very same Implicit Association test, for anyone who wants more info.

Inquire Further

02 March 2009

Great Philosophers?

Via Evolving Thoughs, I came across some discussions about who the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century was. The New York Times chose Wittgenstein ... whom I've barely read. There was a very short excerpt from him in my Native American philosophy class, and that's it.

The choice inspired at least one blogger to put up his own questionaire to see if his readers agreed with the choice. Wittgenstein did come out on top, closely followed by Bertrand Russell. At any rate, I've put the list below the fold (no numbers; follow the last link if you want to see how they did), with comments on the ones that I have actually read.

Ludwig Wittgenstein - Short excerpt. Not enough for me to have much of an opinion on him.
Martin Heidegger - First third of Being and Time. Pros: has helped me put some difficult ideas into words. Cons: very difficult reading. However, of those listed, Heidegger would be the one I would have voted for, had I seen the quiz in time.
Jean-Paul Sartre - We'll be reading Being and Nothingness in Existentialism next. My baseline impression of Sartre is "interesting, but flawed." We'll see if that holds up.
Saul Kripke - One article in Epistemology. It was an interesting article, arguing that some "necessary" truths were "contingent" on empirical evidence. The example given was (as I recall it): Venus is necessarily identical with Venus. But in the past Venus has been called the "morning star" and the "evening star", and it was an empirical discovery that these were, in fact, the same object. It was an interesting read, but not one that influenced me very much.
Rudolf Carnap - One article in Epistemology, plus a few others while I was researching Quine. What we read of him (again, as I'm remembering it) involved an argument that it was meaningless to talk about what something meant outside of the language-context from which it came. I'm sure I'm muddling things a bit, but on a question like "Are numbers real?", Carnap would argue to the effect that they represented a useful concept in one or more language-spaces, but outside those language-spaces it was meaningless to talk about numbers. Asking if they "exist" as "entities" is a question outside the language-space and is thus meaningless.
Bertrand Russell - I've read quite a few of Russell's essays, but none of his longer works. I enjoyed reading him, but I didn't find him particularly influential on my thinking. Most especially, I wasn't impressed by his acceptance of the "verification theory of meaning."
W.V.O. Quine - I thoroughly enjoyed Quine, and now I'm going to have to look up modern responses to him, as many of the comments at Evolving Thoughts consider him "dated." But how can you not love someone who doubts that meaning has any meaning? He would have been my second choice of those listed. ^/^
Hilary Putnam - We read an article from Putnam in Epistemology ... near the time we were reading Sosa ... and that's all I remember. So I guess he didn't make an impression on me.
John Rawls - We'll be reading Rawls later in Political Philosophy, so I as yet have no opinion on him.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty - Ditto, but for Existentialism.

The rest of these either I haven't read, or, if I did read them, they made so little an impression on me that I can't even recognize their names. EDIT: just to clarify, some of the names I do recognize (Rorty, Foucault, Tarski, Whitehead, Popper, and, if I'm allowed to count Monty Python as a reference, Henri Bergson). The rest ... could be random names out of a phonebook from my perspective.

David K. Lewis
Jurgen Habermas
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Wilfrid Sellars
Richard Rorty
Donald Davidson
C.I. Lewis
John Dewey
Ernst Cassirer
Bernard Williams
Michel Foucault
Theodor Adorno
Gilles Deleuze
G.E. Moore
Alfred Tarski
Alfred North Whitehead
Henri Bergson
Michael Dummett
P.F. Strawson
Karl Popper

Inquire Further

Weekend Update

One of my biggest gripes with this house is the lack of built-in storage. The bathroom has no closet; the only storage in it is the very small under-sink cabinet. I'd been looking for one of those cabinets that are made to stand up over the back of the toilet, but I only had 23 inches of room, and most such cabinets are two feet or more. Then yesterday, whilst sneaking through Wal-Mart in the dead of early morning (the only safe time to go there), I discovered one that was 23.25 inches wide, and it looked like the extra quarter inch was from decorative pieces sticking out a bit from the sides, so I figured I could make it fit. I thought about going home and measuring again ... but there were only two such cabinets in the faux-oak finish—the rest were white—and the other oak one was an inch wider. So I looked over the design, decided if worst came to worst I could cut it up and force it to fit, and bought it.


Turned out I technically only had 22 inches of space there; I'd misremembered the measurement. However, part of that limitation came from assuming the cabinet would snug back against the wall, "inside" the boundary marked by the door-frame. This turned out to be impossible due to the floor, er, wainscotting (which is identical to the doorframe, but between the wall and the floor instead of between the wall and the door). There was no way the cabinet was going to snug against the wall. So I'm just letting it sit with one inch covering up part of the doorframe. It makes the doorway a bit crowded, but it more than doubled the storage space I'd had from a wall-mounted shelf; that had only two shelves, and they weren't nearly as wide as the wall-space. This has two full-width shelves, one full-width cabinet, and a solid top that I plan to use as a shelf.

So now I have to figure out what to do with the wall-mounted shelf and the toilet paper stand. I might be able to put the toilet paper stand in the downstairs bathroom, but I'd want to attach it to a wall this time. It's not made for that, but it's not too hard to find connective pieces that will support such things. I haven't decided about the wall-shelf yet.

Oh, there were two oddities in the instructions for putting the new shelf together. (1) In one place, it instructs you to attach the decorative cross-piece to the top of the unit. There are screw holes through the top, but no holes in the cross-piece. I skipped that and got the rest together ... and discovered that there were no screws leftover for such a connection, either. So I ignored that step. (2) On the last page, there are instructions for connecting a support strap between the top of the unit and the wall to keep it from tipping over. At the top of the page it reads, "It is imperative that unit be fastened to the wall for safety reasons." In the instructional picture, there's an arrow pointing to the screw being set into the wall, labeled "Not Included". ^/^ Also, there was no hole drilled in the top to accommodate even the one screw that was included. Now, I will often leave off the wall straps, but in this case, the unit is guaranteed to be top-heavy, so I just dug out an old screw and a drill and a stud-finder.

Inquire Further